Refugee family makes big impact on Jefferson

Refugee family makes big impact on Jefferson

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Refugee family makes big impact on Jefferson

JEFFERSON — Every time Abdi Ibrahim nails another long 3-pointer to a large chorus of applause from the appreciative fans in Jefferson High School’s gym, two things happen.

With each shot made, Jefferson’s boys basketball team inches closer towards a state playoff spot, something the Lions haven’t done in over a decade.

And people in the rural community, whether they know it or not, see what benefits refugees from countries deemed dangerous can bring to the United States.

Jefferson's Abdi Ibrahim (1) shoots a free throw as his brother Ahmed Ibrahim (2) watches in a game against Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

Jefferson’s Abdi Ibrahim (1) shoots a free throw as his brother Ahmed Ibrahim (2) watches in a game against Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

The Ibrahim brothers – there are four at the high school and eight siblings in all – have become a huge part of the success the athletic programs at Jefferson the past two years.

They are proving that refugees can have a positive impact on a community as a whole.

“I know that they have that background, but I don’t think about that much anymore, really,” second-year Jefferson coach Nate Neuschwander said. “They’re just Abdi and Ahmed and Suli, Hassan, all those guys.

“Definitely their story is amazing, and people probably can’t relate to what they’ve been through. I know the community loves them. People here have their backs and are super glad they’re here.”

The Ibrahim family immigrated to the United States in 2012 from Kenya, where they lived in a refugee camp. Their parents were born in Somalia.

The executive order President Trump signed Jan. 27 suspended refugees from entering the United States from Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Libya for 90 days.

The Ibrahim family has more members still in Africa that would like to immigrate, but can’t now.

“I think like everybody wants to get the chance,” said Abdi Ibrahim, a sophomore. “Refugees, all they want is to have freedom, to have a good life just like we wanted. That’s all they want. They’re not coming here to do some bad things and stuff like that.”

Jefferson's Abdi Ibrahim, left, and Ahmed Ibrahim, right, in a huddle with teammates as they play Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

Jefferson’s Abdi Ibrahim, left, and Ahmed Ibrahim, right, in a huddle with teammates as they play Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

The impact the Ibrahim brothers have had on the athletic programs since their family moved to Jefferson from Portland in 2015 is immense.

In cross country, Hassan Ibrahim, a junior, has placed second at the 3A/2A/1A state meet the past two years.

When all four brothers ran cross country this fall, the team had its best result in years by placing fourth at the state meet and earning the school’s first state trophy in an OSAA sport in a long time.

Their impact is being felt in basketball, too.

Jefferson is 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall and all but assured a spot in the PacWest Conference playoffs. From the league playoffs the top three teams reach the 3A state playoffs, something Jefferson hasn’t done – or been close to – since 2006.

“It’s kind of neat to me that we have some difference on our team,” second-year Jefferson coach Nate Neuschwander said. “There’s kids from all backgrounds and stuff.

“We love each other all the same. So it’s been a really cool dynamic. It’s been a lot of fun to be around it. They’re just like anybody else. It’s been a positive both ways.”

Jefferson's Ahmed Ibrahim (2) drives towards the basket in a game against Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

Jefferson’s Ahmed Ibrahim (2) drives towards the basket in a game against Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

When they were living in Kenya, all of the members of the Ibrahim family – including the children – had to work to make ends meet and education was secondary.

Now their education is paramount.

“It feels good, like, to have people that you can understand,” Abdi Ibrahim said. “Down there, it’s like you barely see people that understand you. You don’t get to understand all the people except your parents and your relatives.

“Here, everybody understands and helps you where you need it, especially with school work. Down there, it’s like teachers, all they care about is money.”

The Ibrahim’s had only played soccer before they arrived in an area of Portland – near David Douglas High School – that had a large number of immigrants from similar circumstances as refugees.

It was in Portland that they discovered two sports in vastly different ways.

Watching other youths play basketball on playgrounds in Portland, they were intrigued and wanted in.

The problem was they had to learn how to play the game.

“We just thought it was fun playing,” said Ahmed Ibrahim, a freshman. “We just started getting better.”

Sulieman, a senior, played significantly for Jefferson’s basketball team this season, but he suffered an elbow injury and will miss some games while recovering. Hassan played basketball last year but isn’t playing for Jefferson this season.

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Whereas the brothers found basketball on their own, it took a little shove – and a great example – for them to find another sport at which they excelled.

There was a skinny, freshman at David Douglas at that point named Ahmed Muhumed, who had only recently found running as a sport.

Muhumed was from a family that had immigrated to the United States from Somalia under similar circumstances to the Ibrahim family.

Muhumed had found track and field – and eventually from cross country – from a teacher while in middle school, and went to work encouraging others in his community to give the sport a try.

“He’s the one who first got me to do track when I got here,” Abdi Ibrahim said. “I didn’t want to do track, and he said it’s a good thing to do. I started winning and I got the feel of it, just winning.”

It wasn’t long after Muhumed and his family moved to West Salem that the Ibrahim family moved to the outskirts of Jefferson in 2015 when Ahmed and Abdi were still in middle school.

Muhumed’s example and what he’s become as an athlete – a two-time state cross country champion who has signed to run in college on scholarship at Boise State – served as an example that the Ibrahim brothers have followed.

“He’s a hard worker,” Ahmed Ibrahim said. “It made him a great cross country runner.”

Jefferson's Abdi Ibrahim looks for an open teammate in a game against Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

Jefferson’s Abdi Ibrahim looks for an open teammate in a game against Chemawa on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, at Jefferson High School. Chemawa won the game 58-52, moving to 2-7 in the PacWest and 3-12 overall while Jefferson fell to 5-5 in the PacWest and 7-12 overall.

Abdi is Jefferson’s starting point guard and uses his athleticism on defense and smarts on offense to control the floor.

Ahmed is a revelation.

Just a freshman, he plays with an enthusiasm that is unrivaled.

He scored his team’s first seven points in Thursday’s 58-52 loss to Chemawa and scored 26 points, knocking down four 3-pointers and running the floor.

But they’re still learning the game of basketball, which is a good thing for a Jefferson team that still wants to improve.

“They’re really committed to basketball and getting better,” Neuschwander said. “They’re still obviously a lot of improvement we want them to make and they want to make.

“They spend a lot of time, a lot of times here early and late. I got to kick them out of the gym sometimes. They want to soak it up and learn as much as they can. So they’re pretty serious about the game and learning and trying to always improve themselves.”

Like the rest of the Jefferson basketball players, and all refugees who want to come to the United States, the Ibrahim brothers want to improve.

bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler

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