That's the key - we need to get cricket bats in the hands of America's youth, even if theyyyyÃƒ?re just inexpensive plastic bats.
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By Jamie Harrison
Having been the director of what was the only American high school cricket program outside of New York, I can testify to the addictive nature of the game. I have seen students become completely obsessed with the sport in just an hour's time, and I participated in the development of a thriving cricket program where, only months before, no one even knew what a wicket was. It is instructive to know that most of the players on my team were introduced to cricket by another student who merely invited them to play.
That's the key - we need to get cricket bats in the hands of America's youth, even if they’re just inexpensive plastic bats. For many of us, just running between the wickets in a relaxed, jovial match was enough to spark a lifetime of love, and that’s the effect we must be attempting to replicate on a grand scale.
Cricket, properly promoted to America's youth, can become the new equal-opportunity sport. Cricket can become the sport that encourages that undersized city kid to work hard and become the best he can be. I am convinced that cricket can be the once and future "Great American Pastime." Moreover, once cricket had been reintroduced to a new generation of American youth, the United States, drawing from an under-19 population in excess of 40 million, will be properly positioned to rise to international prominence.
I have been told of individuals like myself who tried to jumpstart youth cricket in the US, but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. This is not surprising. A "single-shot," one-person and done effort will exhaust the individual and have no lasting impact. That's precisely why I have called for the appointment of a volunteer USACA National Youth Cricket Coordinator. Without an organized effort across the country, with everyone working from the same playbook, sharing a unified support network and learning and building on the experiences of others, any new attempt is doomed. On the other hand, the sheer size and scope of a national program, backed by USACA, along with its potential to create a large new market for the game, will encourage larger corporate, ICC and international partnerships. I have already experienced this enthusiasm for American cricket from Cricket Australia, just with my small experiment in Baltimore.
However, it will only be through a detailed, well-managed program that we can establish the sport in America. Some of the tasks to be accomplished will include but are not restricted to: a recruitment campaign for volunteer local leaders, crafting a budget, obtaining funding mechanisms, publicity management, accounting and oversight controls and follow-up/support networks. There will be a great need for individuals across the country to present cricket to school systems, local recreation departments, Police Athletic Leagues and YMCAs. Someone at the national level needs to actively recruit these individuals, coordinate their activities and support their efforts, and I believe that this person must be a representative of USACA, with the sole and specific responsibility of promoting and developing youth cricket in the United States. This task is far too important to be left to chance, without direction or guidance from someone working hand in hand with the national organization.
So what’s the plan? How do we get kids playing cricket in America?
We do it first by convincing a number of schools to teach cricket in their Physical Education classes. This is not as daunting as it might seem at first, because cricket is the perfect game for gym classes and once they are made aware of the benefits that cricket holds for themselves and their students, many educators will welcome the game. Why is cricket such a great game for Physical Education classes? It can be played indoors or outside, on a basketball court, asphalt or grass. It allows the instructor to observe students both as individual participants and as parts of a team.
Cricket also possesses the unique potential to appeal to all athletes, not just those who are typically large, strong or fast. (In a gym class, this propensity causes many disaffected students to shrink away from active participation. This means less involvement and a discouraging, awkward experience for the student; it also makes the task of assigning that student a fair grade more difficult for the instructor.) Cricket rewards patience, technique and intelligence; stature has very little to do with eventual greatness. This encourages all students to participate, and draws out those typically disaffected students. Everyone wins.
The sponsoring volunteer, who will spearhead the program’s adoption at a particular school, would present a ready-made promotional program, with scripts, talking points, printed materials and perhaps even a DVD, to the school. As a former teacher, I believe that if this program is aggressively pursued, it may begin slowly at first, but cricket will spread. School administrators are taught to be great imitators; if something works in one place, it is quickly considered in many others. Once a few schools take up cricket, we will support them like mad and promote their discovery far and wide, while continuing the systematic implementation of the overall plan. Soon, the adoptions will begin to multiply, and at that point I just hope that there's enough volunteer manpower to provide an adequate support network for all of these new cricketers!
(Please know that kids probably won’t choose to play a game they’ve never heard of, or join a league where they have no friends. This is why it’s critical that we start by introducing them to the sport at school, where it can be taught as a part of their curriculum, and they can learn it together. My experience has been that often this is all that will be required to spark a passion for cricket.)
Once cricket begins to be taught in schools, inevitably some children will adopt the game and wish to play it at home with their friends. At this point we must quickly begin organizing youth leagues to take advantage of their interest in cricket, and it is then that the American market will begin to respond to the new demand for cricket. For example, as children sign up to play, parents will begin walking into their local sporting goods stores, asking about cricket equipment. Managers will relay these requests to their district managers, and eventually word will get to the company's buyers. Before too long, there will be cricket gear on store shelves. As their children become interested in cricket’s teams and players, they will want to own things that reflect their newfound interest. This will require that Mom or Dad join him on this voyage of discovery, as they will be the ones responsible for acquiring the correct paraphernalia (apparel, posters, bedding, memorabilia, etc.). The children may also wish to attend professional or college games, which will require an adult escort, and the escorting adult will, of course, cheer loudly for their child’s player and team, which continues the indoctrination process.
As they learn the game with their children, the parents will become, imperceptibly at first, the cricket demographic that advertisers find so valuable. As a result, networks will take notice and begin to include more and more cricket coverage in their telecasts, and stores will expand their offerings to cricketers. The parents, wishing for their children to be able to play on proper pitches as they grow older, will soon learn that there are too few pitches. Parents are also constituents, and they will begin to press their municipalities on the issue, and new pitches will be laid out, which will benefit the entire cricketing community. This is how things get done in local government.
In short, if we get the kids playing cricket, everything else will take care of itself!
What do we need right now to make this dream a reality?
We need to build a network of sponsors and supporters who would be willing to provide both material and organizational support. With no existing infrastructure, no storefronts at which one can buy cricket supplies, and no base of individuals and businesses to turn to, we are literally starting from the ground floor. We need to be put into contact with individuals willing to do more than just talk about youth cricket in America.
Of course, this will require an advanced level of organization, with multiple layers of volunteer leadership to oversee and administer the program, which brings us back to the major hurdle we face in this regard: Right now, there is no coordinated national effort to introduce cricket to youth in the United States.
This vacuum of leadership in the area of youth cricket creates an obstacle that will frustrate all of our desires to promote cricket, if it is not addressed. This is why USACA, as the sport’s officially sanctioned governing body, must appoint a National Youth Cricket Coordinator without delay. This volunteer will be responsible for articulating USACA’s vision for youth sports, and developing local leaders, sponsors and programs that will effectively implement that vision. Until this is done, our hopes for youth cricket will founder and drift as a series of disconnected, directionless dreams.
Conversely, with leadership, vision and vigor this dream can become reality. Perhaps if the cricketing community joined with me in calling for USACA's involvement in such a program, they would respond. There is strength in numbers.