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[Feature Picture Courtesy - US Youth Cricket Association]
Ram Varadarajan wrote in an email dated March 30, 2010: “It has been my belief that USA cricket can benefit from a national dialog with inclusive participation and active and open communication.” That belief was shared by roughly 60 participants who dialled into the first call on Monday, April 26, 2010. The topic was - "A national youth program: Coordination among youth academies and youth programs across the country." The callers included leaders of nearly all cricket academies and coordinators of youth cricket programs.
In his introductory remarks, Mr. Varadarajan said that, "Youth cricket (in USA) is mainly led by individuals and is a grassroots effort. There is no real coordination at the national level." He said that while academies and other league initiatives were doing a great job, there is a need to "knit these (efforts) together into a national plan." "USACA has a big role to play," he added.
Pic (Right): Ram Varadarajan began the first in a series of monthly calls for sharing ideas that benefit USA Cricket
Calling it an open forum, Mr. Varadarajan said, "we are just starting a dialog, out of this may emerge a plan." He urged the participants to look forward instead of backward: "no abuse, no screaming, be civil and constructive, let us make this a progressive call." He also asked that participants adhere to strict time limits adding that there will be more calls, including at least one more call on youth cricket.
The response to the national dialog was positive. In an email to DreamCricket.com, one participant wrote: "I was worried that either very few would call in, or that many would call in, [and] each with a different perspective and different solutions, so that there would be little agreed upon and little to take away. What I heard instead was much general agreement, and many of the same experiences."
Another caller told DreamCricket.com he hoped that the call would result in a national federation of youth initiatives and a league for youth cricket that plays year round in various divisions, instead of meeting once a year for a regional or national tournament. "Cricket does not have to look very far for inspiration. Soccer has two national youth organizations both of which are affiliated to the US Soccer Federation. Those youth associations have their own bylaws, national rules and regulations, and policies."
The call featured five speeches followed by a discussion. Speaking first, Jamie Harrison, President of Maryland Youth Cricket Association, told the participants: "You do great work on behalf of cricket in the United States, and I want to say how much I admire your hard work, innovation and dedication. Many of you have labored in obscurity for years, seeking only to do right for those you coached."
Speaking about the Maryland Youth Cricket Association and the national United States Youth Cricket Association, which is in formative stages, Mr. Harrison said, "Our mission is to introduce elementary-school age children to cricket by donating cricket sets and instruction to schools, summer camps and youth groups." According to Mr. Harrison, the US Youth Cricket Association would produce a huge feeder system for upper-level schools, academies and cricket camps.
A former teacher and coach at Cardinal Gibbons, Mr. Harrison said, "Instructors are always on the lookout for new games to break the monotony of class, and schools love it when things are donated for free. Also, 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 with open arms. As a matter of fact, even now we have schools contacting us to ask that we start them on cricket."
Following Mr. Harrison's speech, Rajesh Suthar of NCCA (Bay Area) spoke about his league's efforts in promoting cricket. He said that there were 60 kids in the league's program between the ages of 6 and 19. But he said that there were not enough teams within the league - which made match-play a challenge. He hoped that the youth programs in his region could put their differences behind and collaborate to provide kids with a regional minor league.
Venu Palaparthi said that the two year old DreamCricket Academy conducts summer camps and specialized coaching in New Jersey. Mr. Palaparthi indicated that the summer camps in 2008 and 2009 were well attended and gradually about 30 of the kids have become year-round cricketers playing at the Academy's indoor facility and when opportunities arose, on a ground. Not having a dedicated ground in the entire state of New Jersey for youth cricket was the biggest obstacle, one that the Academy is looking to overcome during 2010 with support from the cricket community. The Academy has conducted camps across the entire spectrum of junior cricket - from five-year olds at the Kiddie Academy to students with special needs - such as a camp conducted for the NJ School for the Deaf. And it plans to conduct camps in more cities in the future.
Ajay Athavale of California Cricket Academy (Bay Area), the most successful cricket academy in the country by any metric, said that his Academy's goal was to spread cricket. He spoke about the Academy's successful efforts in conducting national level age-group tournaments. This year, the Academy was launching the U-17 age category in the tournament which is planned for June 24-27. Speaking of his Academy's tour program, he said not only had CCA invited outstation teams, most recently a team from CAUSA in Atlanta, it traveled outside its region including overseas tours. He then spoke of the CCA tours to England and India which had given the CCA and some non-CCA boys invaluable turf-wicket experience. He said that the Academy is open to coaching all kids in the areas of skills training and playing in a variety of conditions.
Florida Cricket Academy's Wayne Ramnarine said that several well known junior cricketers such as Steven Taylor and Ricky Nayyar had attended his Academy. He said that Ramnaresh Sarwan recently visited the Academy and coached the boys. The Academy, which has nets at the Ansin Park and plays matches at Brian Piccolo, has access to some of the best facilities in the country for youth cricket. He said that his Academy's biggest wish was to see greater funding from corporate sponsors and USACA. Calling for a national youth coordinator and national agenda, he said that his region's youth coordinator had not visited his youth program.
Shyam Mayasandra spoke on behalf of Michigan Cricket Academy in Detroit, Mr. Mayasandra said that his academy was begun by himself, Vasant Krishnaswamy and Mike Makin in 2004. The academy has had year round activities including winter activities in an indoor arena. He said although 100 kids were on the roster, they did not have the necessary strength to have a youth league. To address that, they organized tournaments at U-15 and U-19 levels which were well represented. He spoke of Detroit's beautiful grounds and also proximity to Toronto's more advanced youth cricket scene as advantages.
Mr. Mayasandra hoped for greater cooperation between the regions and called for an end to the island mentality. He hoped that Detroit would one day have something like the Brijesh Patel Academy, which he said had 40 nets in a single location. He also hoped that USACA would organize a week-long camp at the national level for talented junior cricketers to supplement the national level tournaments.
In the discussion phase of the call, the callers unanimously agreed on the need for a national database for youth cricket, the backbone for which DreamCricket offered to provide. Mr. Varadarajan said that submitting data should be voluntary so that there are no privacy concerns. There was also general agreement on the need for greater coordination, which was the main theme of the call.
Former New York Youth coordinator Clifford Hinds spoke about the need for a uniform curriculum among the programs in the country and urged USACA to have a voting member on USACA board who watches out for youth at all times.
New Jersey parent Rahul Sharma said that community oriented recreational programs were the way forward to cultivate interest in cricket. He said that township and municipal administrators should be approched for inclusion of cricket in their recreational programs.
Mike Thomas spoke of youth cricket in Philadelphia area and, much later, in response to a question by Shahid Ahmed, he also touched on cricket at Haverford and surrounding colleges. In his view, most people in his area espoused the idea of cricket and he saw no reason why cricket could not grow rapidly.
Krishna from Chicago wanted to know more about fundraising experiences of other callers. Venu Palaparthi responded with his experience saying it boiled down to marketing and packaging. Mr. Palaparthi noted that having a non-profit status offers a huge advantage for raising funds due to the inherent tax benefits to the donors.
Speaking about his experience with raising money for the national tournaments in California, Mr. Varadarajan said that youth cricket tugs at the heart strings of community and saw no reason why community oriented businesses could not be persuaded to donate money.
Jay Shah of Dallas spoke about the need for product cricket! By that he meant that if the sport was marketed better, more people would play the sport. This was in response to an emailed question by Richard asking regarding a path to a professional career. Mike Makin of MCA said that roughly 4 million kids played soccer and not everyone really aspired to play professional soccer. And those that did dreamt of playing for Real Madrid. His point was that there were enough good reasons to play cricket that not having a professional career path was not a limitation.
Mr. Palaparthi spoke briefly about an initiative by Manas Sahu, the president of the Massachusetts State Cricket League, who had launched a 'One Club, One School' program wherein each club in his league would be encouraged to adopt a school. In response, one caller suggested that leagues should be handed USACA funds based on their involvement with youth cricket.
Mr. Varadarajan ended the call with a quick note of thanks and promised another call on youth cricket in May.
Speaking to DreamCricket.com, Jamie Harrison said, "In the next call, I would like us to develop further the concept of a nationalized youth cricket organization. Even if we don't get to create the organization, I believe that if we have broad agreement on what it should look like and how it should function, our suggestions will be incorporated into whatever plan eventually emerges. Being able to put forth a specific plan will also make it easier to approach USACA, as opposed to voicing multiple, varied ideas that may be in opposition to each other. It also lets USACA know that they will have eager partners awaiting them when they are ready to move forward in the area of a nationalized youth cricket agenda."