Illuminated by the night lights on the football field, Adnan Restum joined a scrum of teammates at the end-zone water fountain, taking a break from a grueling preseason football workout to guzzle a drink.
In just a few hours, he wouldn’t be able to take a sip. But the 17-year-old defensive tackle could rehydrate guilt-free during the 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. practice, and succumb to tempting boxes full of granola bars and chocolate milk, too.
The moonlight practice is tailored for Restum and fellow Muslim teammates who make up a majority of the Fordson High School squad in the large Arab community of Dearborn. It’s a way for the players to practice football and their faith, and balance the fasting common during the 30-day holy month of Ramadan that started last week.
Fordson High’s head coach Fouad Zaban proposed reversing the clock and moving practice to nighttime after realizing the rotating Ramadan would fall squarely during the start of a two-a-day practice schedule that launches football season.
Zaban, 40, a Muslim and former Fordson player, knows the high stakes. When Ramadan falls during football season, the players practice during daylight hours. But with August’s heat and doubled practice schedule, concerns grew about players’ health, particularly the high risk of heat stroke.
“We know how hot it’s been this summer–it’s not safe,” Zaban said.
Working it out meant getting the approval of school and district administrators and the blessings of players, parents and police. Then, there were the residents in the surrounding neighborhood, who would hear more noise and see the illuminated field. So he sent letters explaining the decision.
Zaban said the goal has been to let players break the fast at sundown and go to the mosque, and get players out in time for a meal and morning prayer before sunrise. The field is near bustling bakeries, cafes and restaurants catering to late-night customers.
Zaban said whether players fast is a personal choice and never an issue raised by him or his staff. Still, he says, it shouldn’t be an excuse for poor performance for the roughly 95 percent who do.
He ended the session before 4 a.m. with a message to the huddled, padded masses to “drink lots of water,” “get a good meal in,” and “man up.”
Defensive tackle William Powell, one of the team’s few non-Muslims, initially thought the coach was “out of his mind,” but he’s come around. In fact, he’s even fasted.