Hometown Heroes: Concord man turns playing fields into safe haven for New Americans

Bob Wolfe talks with Pascal Zabayo during a youth basketball game for New American kids at Abbot Downing School on Thursday night. Wolfe has known Pascal since he was 15, and now Zabayo helps mentor New Americans.

Bob Wolfe talks with Pascal Zabayo during a youth basketball game for New American kids at Abbot Downing School on Thursday night. Wolfe has known Pascal since he was 15, and now Zabayo helps mentor New Americans. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Bob Wolfe talks with Pascal Zabayo during a youth basketball game for New American kids at Abbot Downing School on Thursday night, February 22, 2024. Wolfe has known Pascal since he was 15 and now Zabayo helps mentor New Americans.

Bob Wolfe talks with Pascal Zabayo during a youth basketball game for New American kids at Abbot Downing School on Thursday night, February 22, 2024. Wolfe has known Pascal since he was 15 and now Zabayo helps mentor New Americans. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 02-25-2024 8:45 PM

Modified: 02-26-2024 7:00 AM


Bob Wolfe heard the story nearly 25 years ago about a 10-year-old boy sprawled out on the side of a road in Sierre Leone shortly after a rebel fighter had cut off his legs.

“That was it,” Wolfe said. “That was all I needed.”

He had been shown the dark side of human nature, the treatment of those seeking safety from their own war-torn countries, and it was at that point that Wolfe chose a specific path to follow: Create a youth sports program in the Concord area for refugees, some with tragic pasts, to facilitate their transition to the United States’ culture and language.

“The rebels had attacked, and each person was running for the border to Guinea,” Wolfe said. “This guy picked up the kid and carried him the rest of the way. He had photos of the children.”

The picture convinced Wolfe to create a pair of youth sports leagues that featured refugees, giving them a chance to play structured games with new equipment and supervision and easing the adjustment needed to blend in naturally with a powerful form of culture shock.

It also prompted Dave Canfield to nominate Wolfe for the Monitor’s weekly Hometown Hero Award.

“(The year) 2024 marks volunteer Bob Wolfe’s 25th year of bringing organized community soccer and basketball into the lives of Concord’s New American kids,” Canfield wrote in his nominating email. “In 2000, ‘Mr. Bob,’ as he is known affectionately by thousands of his current players and alumni, envisioned that the team sports offered by Concord’s Parks and Recreation Department could be the best way of integrating refugee children seamlessly into their new community.”

Said Wolfe, “My wife and I decided that we should check this out.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Mother of two convicted of negligent homicide in fatal Loudon crash released on parole
Students’ first glimpse of new Allenstown school draws awe
‘We’re just kids’: As lawmakers debate transgender athlete ban, some youth fear a future on the sidelines
Pay-by-bag works for most communities, but not Hopkinton
What’s in a name? Ask an Epsom Yeaton.
Regal Theater in Concord is closing Thursday

Mr. Bob is directing basketball and soccer leagues for all age groups. He’s got 40 refugees, all boys, playing Park and Rec League basketball. There are six teams, with refugees playing on three of them.

He’s responsible for gathering equipment, recruiting volunteer drivers, making schedules and, in general, ensuring that the project he created nearly 25 years ago runs smoothly and professionally.

Canfield, the Hometown Hero nominator, coaches girls’ soccer. That program includes four teams, two of which have refugees on their rosters.

Wolfe estimates he’s spent around $100,000 of his own money since 2000 to provide equipment and transportation, while raising more than that from other sponsors.

He’s developed a feeder system to school teams, giving the children an outlet of patience and learning and practice before they set their sights on Rundlett Middle School and Concord High School athletics.

His inspiration evolved from the misery felt in many African nations and in South Asia. He met the man from Sierra Leone, the one who told him about the 10-year-old boy whose legs had been cut off by rebel forces. The man showed Wolfe a photo of the boy, then told him he died 24 days later.

He heard about atrocities in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia and Liberia and Sudan. He heard about children, boy soldiers, who acted as scouts, drawing fire onto themselves so forces behind them could pinpoint the enemy’s location.

He heard about children being forced to kill their parents, about kids living in trees and starving, about decapitations and rape.

Wolfe said the effort to make this a successful project does not feel like a job or a chore.

“I love it,” he said. “To me, it’s a privilege to do this sort of work. It’s a lot of paperwork and figuring out transportation, but it’s well worth it.”