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Have kit, will play

The US Youth Cricket Association has started giving out free cricket equipment to schools. It may not seem much but it's a start as more and more schools put in requests for kit and training

Peter Della Penna

April 17, 2011

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

American school kids take a baseball stance at a cricket game
Baseball stances are kosher when you're an American kid trying to pick up cricket © Peter Della Penna

It's a peaceful and sunny spring day in upstate New York, far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. The rest of the state outside of the five boroughs of New York City is an alternate universe of sorts. Much of it is quaint and quiet, with gently rolling hills and sprawling green pastures.

Cross River is a town in this alternate universe, situated in Westchester County, about 15 miles north of Chappaqua, home of Bill and Hillary Clinton. A group of sixth graders at John Jay Middle School are using the afternoon to embody that spirit of living in an alternate universe. While their peers do warm-ups for lacrosse, athletics and baseball practice, about 20 kids have seized the centre of the football field to play cricket for the very first time, with new equipment provided by the US Youth Cricket Association (USYCA).

"It was awesome and it was a great experience," 12-year-old Lily Gengler said. Lily was the only girl in the group of kids, but wore one of the biggest smiles after the day was through. She said she'd love to play the sport again and when asked why, three of her classmates jumped in and chorused, "Because it's fun!"

USYCA president Jamie Harrison is one of the men responsible for delivering that fun. Harrison, a 46-year-old Maryland native, first encountered cricket as a history teacher three years ago when he took his class on a field trip to Virginia. A historical re-enactment of a cricket match caught his students' attention and by the end of the day, the discussion on the bus ride home revolved around runs and wickets instead of the founding fathers.

Harrison wanted to support his students so they started the first high school cricket team in Maryland in 2009. Unfortunately, it was shut down in 2010 in the wake of the economic recession. Harrison's passion didn't die, though, and less than a year after founding and becoming the president of the USYCA, he has become the point man for schools across America looking to learn and play cricket.

"In the last month, I've gotten email requests from schools in 50 different school districts across the country," Harrison said. "Anchorage, Alaska, wants cricket sets in their schools. The last count was, in over 25 states we've had schools get cricket sets from us, or at least they put the request in."

The USYCA is committed to donating at least one set to any school that makes a request. This has helped eliminate an obstacle for some schools that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience cricket, such as Highland Park, William Paca and Kenmoor Elementary Schools in Prince George's County, Maryland.

"These schools are all low-income schools," said Charles Silberman, a physical education teacher who has taught cricket at all three aforementioned schools. "They deal with poverty issues. Some of them are really struggling, their families are struggling. So something like this that doesn't have a cost barrier to get into is really exciting."

For schools at the other end of the financial spectrum like John Jay, there is always the option to purchase more sets.

Harrison has been shrewd in making the right connections to forward his cause. He reached out to Cricket Australia, who put him in contact with the company that produces cricket sets for the Milo in2Cricket programme, who donated 500 sets to USYCA for distribution. Harrison also got Damien Martyn, Nathan Bracken and Mike Young to speak up for the USYCA mission. Bracken's Twitter page currently features him and his son wearing USYCA t-shirts.

All this help is making an impact, and Harrison hopes that more goodwill is on the way in order to keep up with the increasing demand from schools that have caught the cricket bug.

"Those 500 sets are going to be exhausted sometime this summer," Harrison said. "They'll be all shipped out. We're going to have to find someone who is willing, either from a completely altruistic standpoint or because they see the vehicle we can become for them… someone who is willing to donate so we can purchase the next 500 sets, because the schools are asking for them as fast as we can send them out. I'd love to see USACA and the ICC get involved and say this is a worthy cause and this is going to make a difference in bringing cricket to the United States and making America a cricket-playing nation."

It's one thing to send cricket kits to the schools that request them. It's another to actually show up and explain how they're supposed to be used. The USYCA does its best to contact a local cricket club and coordinate with them to personally deliver the kits while giving a brief tutorial on both the history and rules of the game.

At John Jay, the instruction was provided by Rakesh Kallem, president of West Haven CC in Connecticut and a board member of the USYCA, and his West Haven CC club mate Satyapal Salla. The two men drove 90 minutes in order to put on a demo, where they emphasised having fun rather than bogging the kids down with terminology.

"The focus has been to bring awareness but not to expect too much from these kids yet because they are still trying to pick up a game," Kallem said. Most of the kids said after the demo that the hardest thing to understand was running with the bat instead of dropping it after hitting the ball. Other baseball tendencies could be observed, as they begged to be the next "pitcher", and cocked the bat above their shoulder before taking a swing.

American school kids try their hand at cricket
A first-timer at John Jay gets the hang of cricket © Peter Della Penna

On the flip side, the sixth graders quickly picked up on the fact that it was okay to leave a ball alone if it wasn't going to hit the stumps. There were hardly any run-outs either, as the communication between players after hitting the ball was impressive, as well as the patience and understanding to know when not to run. The fielding and catching were superb, showing that kids who grow up developing good hand-eye coordination in other sports can transfer that easily into cricket.

"I thought it was a lot more complicated, but when they explained it, it made life and everything a lot easier," Gengler said.

Kim Mammoser, the physical education teacher at the school who contacted the USYCA to come and put on the demonstration, was encouraged by the game after watching it being played for the first time. Even though she originally intended to have the cricket kits just for intramurals and recess, she wants to start putting the game into her PE classes too.

"I just think it requires everyone to be on board," Mammoser said. "It just keeps the kids moving more with the sprinting back and forth, game strategy, communication. As far as character building between the kids goes, they need to work together to get the ball in. I think it would be a good addition to our programme."

For Jamie Harrison and the USYCA, making sure cricket becomes a good addition not just at John Jay Middle School but at schools across America is the top priority.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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Posted by   on (April 19, 2011, 15:10 GMT)

@USYCA : I dont know if u havent tried this, but perhaps if u contact BCCI, they can help you I think.

Posted by   on (April 18, 2011, 17:54 GMT)

@SunnyGIsGawd USYCA can be contacted at info@usyca.org. This email address can be found on the "About" page on our website. You say that you have contacted USYCA in the past, without getting a response. I am not aware of your inquiry, but please accept my apologies if you did not receive a satisfactory reply. That having been said, I would not necessarily conclude that your inability to find information about a cricket camp for your son necessarily means that cricket cannot reach the broader American public. I've personally watched thousands of American children fell in love with the game, so perhaps my perspective is a bit different.

Posted by Raki99 on (April 18, 2011, 17:03 GMT)

If the NCAA which is a college spoting administration in US takes the interest and adds it to all the universities accross the US, Then just in 10 or 15 years US can be a global Force. They have everything in US right from Money, the right skills and people, right administration and the best infrastucture. Can You imagine an 6.5 feet American bowler bolwing at any batman in the world. They can produce joel garners and holding at will and same thing with batting. But its all abouts temeperament does anybody in US have time to watch a 9 hour oneday game. I don't know and i don't think so. If you look at all the sport in US they are at the max 3 hour sport. And action throught that three hours. (Except baseball). If americans take up this sport i am sure they will be global force in 10 to 15 years. Look where they are in soccer right now they just took the sport in 1994 and are ranked in top 15 in fifa rankings.

Posted by mafiasam on (April 18, 2011, 16:35 GMT)

@Dashgar, The average waist size of Baseball players must be easily 2-3 inches more than cricketers. It is ignorant of you to say that Baseball players are more athletic than cricketers. They hardly have a ground (only front side of the batter) to cover. Cricket demands more athleticism than baseball, that is why u rarely see 45-50 yr old cricketers but there are plenty of 45-50 age group baseball players even in these times.

Posted by ToTellUTheTruth on (April 18, 2011, 16:33 GMT)

@Peacock123..this is the story of cricket in US. Once in a blue moon, we get to read something like this, and we do not even have a point of contact to help/find out more information. I have been trying for five years now, to see if there is any coaching camp sort of thing to enroll my kids into, and as you guessed it, there is no response from USACA/USYCA/Southern/Northern Cricket associations.

That is the reason, why cricket will always remain a ex-pat sport in this country.

Posted by   on (April 18, 2011, 14:57 GMT)

Jamie is doing a great job developing an interest at the grass roots level. What's most impressive is that so far USACA has not bothered to support him and the show has been run mainly by donations and local clubs educating kids in school. I think we can all agree that if USA can pick up soccer and be one of the top teams in a matter of years, there is no reason the same can not be replicated for Cricket. I urge all clubs to follow Montgomery College, Crescent Cricket Club, George Mason University and others to try to introduce cricket to the local school systems. Once the school systems adopt cricket it will only be a matter of time before you see a USA cricket team doing good on the world stage.

Posted by   on (April 18, 2011, 13:40 GMT)

Kudos to USYCA. However there are other organizations who are trying to promote cricket in the US as well. For example, American College Cricket has created a tournament that takes place in spring break every year. It has attracted over 50 large universities across the country to come down to Florida to play in the Ft.Lauderdale stadium. This has kickstarted interest in Cricket within Universities and a lot of the teams are encouraging participation from local students. I think what is required of the USACA(the ICC associated organization for the US) is to market the sport at all levels and provide the funding as well.

Posted by Dashgar on (April 18, 2011, 2:56 GMT)

It's interesting to think where cricket would fit into American sporting culture. In many ways when you think of the average cricketer as an athlete their physical characteristics do not match up at all with American Football, Basketball or Ice Hockey. If Sachin Tendulkar or Shiv Chanderpaul were American would they have ever become sporting heroes. It doesn't seem likely. Even in baseball they would not be great fielders or home run hitters. Cricket has a niche available to it in America. If the USYCA keep doing what they are doing and look for every opportunity to expand then America could easily grow quickly as a cricket nation. What they also need to do is draw on all the cricketing resources they have. Namely their Australian, English, West Indian and Sub Continental expats.

Posted by MinusZero on (April 17, 2011, 22:41 GMT)

It would be great if the USA came on board. I think it wouldnt be long before they could be challenging most countries.

Posted by Peacock123 on (April 17, 2011, 22:12 GMT)

Hi, how does one contact these guys to help with the cause? I visited their website and there is no contact information. At least I didn't see any. I would love to go to schools to teach the game.


Posted by   on (April 17, 2011, 19:25 GMT)

Kudos to USYCA. They need more support from the ICC and wealthy boards like BCCI need to support them as well. Kids getting into the game when they're young is everything. If this trend continues, maybe 20-30 years down the line, cricket will be at least as popular in the U.S. as football is today.

Posted by cricketIloveit on (April 17, 2011, 18:25 GMT)

I hope it takes off although without money it will struggle even at grassroots level. To become a national sport it will be important to overcome many obstacles including Americans' love for their own sports - an important part of their national identity. I'm a great admirer of the US but am puzzled by Americans focus on their own sports and their penchant for acclaiming world champions when only they are competing. My percpetion is that Americans lose interest when they are not dominating a sport. But cricket does have some advantages especially at school level as you don't have to be a freak of nature to compete as CharuKhopkar mentions. Good luck and I hope many Americans come to appreciate this great game. As I say to my American friends more can happen in 1 over of cricket than usually happens in a whole 9 innings of baseball.

Posted by Anneeq on (April 17, 2011, 17:54 GMT)

its good that kids in the USA are getting exposure to cricket but theres a difference between playing the game in schools and making this a past time thats played in parks and played professionally both domestically and at international level. We play softball here in England in school, but nobody plays it professionally or in the parks. Whilst this is good news, we've got to keep our feet on the ground here. Its the first step in a long journey to get cricket back to being a US past time!

Posted by NZisbetathnEnglnd on (April 17, 2011, 16:14 GMT)

Its great that New Zealand has a partnership with USACA (as evidenced in the twenty20 in Fort Lauderdale against Sri Lanka). Can't wait for the sport to pick up and the Blackcaps to reap the benefits of being involved with the biggest corporate market available. (And for Americans to see what they have been missing)

Posted by   on (April 17, 2011, 14:11 GMT)

This is very promising and encouraging news for all of us. With its innate advantages, cricket providing another option for the kids to play another team sport. Thanks ESPN for covering this story and we will need all your help and support in future. Great job Jamie and team in USYCA!

Posted by csilberman on (April 17, 2011, 12:07 GMT)

Great Article Peter! I am so excited for the exposure this will bring in the US!

Posted by   on (April 17, 2011, 12:06 GMT)

This is fantastic news, as USYCA continues to spread its wings in providing cricket sets to school kids all across the USA. Great job by President Jamie Harrison and all the others members of USYCA. Keep up the good work.

Posted by anurag301 on (April 17, 2011, 11:36 GMT)

Great news.Cricket is fun and kids will definitely like it.

Posted by enigma77543 on (April 17, 2011, 10:45 GMT)

US could turn out to be a big destination for cricket, people there will also find it a natural flair for it as they're used to playing a similar sport (baseball). I think ICC would do well to help people like Harrison & others in US as much as possible to at least introduce the game & make the equipment available & at least the basic knowledge about the sport is made available, if only that much is done, then as I've said, because they're used to a similar sport, cricket could well grow pretty quickly there, & thereby spread the sport further, not to mention get more money involved in the sport, at the global level. It has to be kept in mind though that it could quickly lead to "baseballisation " of cricket & thus, it must be made sure that cricket keeps its uniqueness which ICC hasn't been doing a good job at allowing flatter pitches to be prepared everywhere & pushing T20, instead there needs to be more sporting pitches & emphasis on conventional cricket which makes it unique.

Posted by CharuKhopkar on (April 17, 2011, 9:40 GMT)

Cricket is an ideal game for children of all ages- regardless of gender - because it is a non-contact team sport in which size or strength does not prevent the acquisition of skills required to play the game. There is a position in the team for all - tall or short, big or small. Best of all it involves every player on the field the moment the bowler starts his or her runup and even after the ball has been played out, i.e. dead with the change in field placings and after the end of each over.

It can be played without a cricket set - all you need something to draw three vertical lines on and and a "bat" and a ball. I grew up in India playing the game - shoeless - in the streets of Bombay with a tennis ball and a battered "found" bat playing, first underhand and then overarm bowling - every evening after school with my friends.

Posted by sweetspot on (April 17, 2011, 8:05 GMT)

This is fantastic to read about. Cricket teachers in the USA should remember to teach that cricket is a great equalizer. There is plenty of scope for all virtues - strength, discipline, skill, speed, deception, mental toughness, patience, reflexes, intelligence, AND the fact that anybody can succeed. There won't be any of that mindless "bigger is better" nonsense that leaves all the smaller built or less physically domineering kids out of many other sports. Sure, power can be an advantage sometimes, and athleticism is handy, but cricket gives plenty of opportunity for other skills - should be very exciting for most kids because each will feel like he/she has a chance to do well. Encourage this please!

Posted by Harshad_Bendle on (April 17, 2011, 7:32 GMT)

wow looks like cricket is spreading, good to see new rising competition. truely it will take time to come up to the standards of the test playing nations. But i dont know how will the kids get inspired to take up a sport which does not have any national heroes. Thumps up to the efforts.

Posted by   on (April 17, 2011, 5:55 GMT)

Always awesome to see people trying to get kids playing the sport- The best way to grow it is to get them when they're young, and US seems to leave that to parents who play cricket instead of getting it in schools.

Posted by Kansas_Cricket_Association on (April 17, 2011, 5:13 GMT)

Having taught cricket ot over 60,000 kids in Kansas over the last 10 years, i can say that almost every time i taught i've had a bunch of enthusiastic kids and their teachers you have really enjoyed the game. I'd recommend it to school administrators and PE teachers all over the country. The Kids Love it.

www.USYCA.org is where we found out about this phenomenon, the Kansas Cricket Association supports the goals of USYCA and teaching cricket to kids.

www.CricketAmerica.com has a bunch of free resources like lesson plans and videos you can watch to learn a bout the game.

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