ACF's Harrison wants to 'reset' US cricket
Jamie Harrison, president of the US Youth Cricket Association (USYCA) and newly-appointed chief executive of the American Cricket Federation (ACF), says the time has come to "press the reset button on 50 years of failure" in US cricket. The USA Cricket Association (USACA) has been the ICC-recognised national governing body in America since 1965, but Harrison says he's focused on forging a new path at the rival governing body ACF with the aim to satisfy stakeholders from around the country who have become disenchanted with the way cricket has been administered historically.
"I want to talk to clubs and say, 'What can we do to help you achieve your goals to be better at what you do?' I think the main thing the ACF is, is a support, a buttress, a foundation upon which great things can be built," Harrison said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo. "We're not 'the peak body' that pushes everyone underneath of us and demands to be upheld. It's the flip. We're upholding everything else. We're upholding everyone else. We're making everyone else better. That's job one."
Harrison's appointment as ACF's first chief executive is just the latest event in a remarkable rise over the last five years, from cricket obscurity to administrative heavyweight. Harrison, a 49-year-old from Maryland, first discovered cricket in 2008 when he led his high school history class students on a field trip to U.S. Civil War sites in Richmond, Virginia where they were invited to participate in a historical cricket reenactment. With student interest piqued, a cricket club was formed at the school and Harrison volunteered to be its moderator.
He then went on to form the Maryland Youth Cricket Association and co-founded the US Youth Cricket Association. Along the way, he has facilitated the distribution of more than 1500 start-up cricket sets to schools, organised ICC coaching courses so that teachers could be more knowledgeable when introducing the sport to kids in physical education classes and won a 2010 ICC Development Programme Award for Best Junior Participation Initiative in the Americas Region. One of his main goals with ACF is to carry over a proactive approach from his previous endeavours that have generated positive results.
"We're going to get stuff done," Harrison said. "One thing that I'm determined about is there's not going to be any unnecessary delays. There's not going to be any committees and reports and evaluations. We're going to make things happen. This isn't brain surgery. It's going to be a high level of activity. We're going to come up with plans and then we're going to act on them and things are going to happen. I can't promise that it'll happen in a week or a month or even a year, but I am bound and determined that everything is going to change.
"I love it when people tell me, 'It's a lost cause. You can't make cricket happen in America. There are too many factions. Americans will never take to cricket.' All the crap that people have been telling me for years that could never be done that I've watched happening [with USYCA]. So I'm fired up by the chance to demonstrate that it can be done."
Harrison will now be working in direct competition with USACA chief executive Darren Beazley but the two men were very close to establishing a partnership with each other as recently as May. Harrison had worked to keep USYCA as apolitical as possible in its first few years of existence but at the 2013 USYCA AGM in Philadelphia, board members reviewed proposals from USACA and ACF to form a relationship in an effort to enhance youth development. USACA's proposal was unanimously rejected while the USYCA board voted to approve an agreement with ACF. Harrison says he has no animosity towards Beazley but is confident that being with ACF is a wiser choice than being with USACA.
"I like Darren personally. I've met with him. I've talked to him on the phone a bunch of times. We've emailed back and forth. Personally he's a really nice guy," Harrison said. "We just see the USA from different perspectives and maybe that's because I'm from the USA and he's not.
"I don't envy him. There are times when I feel bad for him. I think I'm lucky. I think I'm in a way better placed than he is to achieve great things. Having his situation is far trickier than mine. He's got a divided group. They're subverting and there's the factions and the politics and all of this nonsense which completely inhibits his ability to do what needs to be done whereas we have a united team. Everybody's on the same page, everybody's altruistic, everybody has the best interests of the game at heart, egos are checked at the door. Everybody's working harmoniously together striving toward that goal."
While Gladstone Dainty's reign as USACA president since 2003 is an element of continuity, USACA has an overall reputation of instability centered around heavy debt, disputed election results and a pair of ICC suspensions. In making reference to former USACA chief executive Don Lockerbie, whose unexplained dismissal in 2010 came after less than two years in charge, Harrison says he's confident that he won't have to look over his shoulder to worry about ACF members giving him much angst.
"I don't have to worry about people stabbing me in the back. I don't have to worry about people undercutting me. We're all on the same team here and so for that reason I don't feel like I'm competing with Darren at all. I think we're going to do a lot more a lot quicker and move a lot faster just because we have all of the parts of the engine working harmoniously together. So it's kind of unfair to him to compare our success to his because his situation is so much worse. That having been said, I'm looking forward to pressing the reset button on US cricket."
The ACF is holding its second men's national Twenty20 tournament in Florida from October 12-14. The first ACF elections are scheduled for December.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey