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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
USYCA President Jamie Harrison, whose organization voted in favor of establishing a partnership with the American Cricket Federation last month, believes USA’s results on the international stage will have little bearing on the growth of the game in America. If people are serious about building a solid foundation for the game domestically, Harrison says the time has come to commit more resources to a stronger grassroots program.
Earlier this week, USYCA and ACF announced the formation of a Joint Youth Cricket Committee which touted equal representation between the two organizations as they carry out their common goals. For Harrison, it keeps faith in what his board envisioned when they voted to approve a partnership with ACF in May at the USYCA AGM in Philadelphia by a 7-1 vote. A proposal offered by USACA to become partners with USYCA was struck down at the same meeting by an 8-0 vote.
“I feel as though [ACF] are going to be real partners,” Harrison said. “With one proposal, it was sort of like we’ll let you be part of our operation and we’re going to be a part of your operation but there was not a real sense of partnership in the USACA offer. With the ACF, it really is a partnership. It’s a partnership of equals. They respect our place and we respect theirs.”
USACA was formally established in 1965 as one of the first Associate members of the ICC while ACF was officially established in 2012 and is not recognized by the ICC. However, Harrison says that USACA’s status as the ICC-recognized governing body in America did not scare off his board members from accepting a more appealing offer to join hands with ACF.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Well what about the ACF isn’t recognized by the ICC. Isn’t that a terrible thing? You can’t do anything outside the ICC.’ Frankly, I’m glad they’re not recognized by the ICC. I’m happy they’re not recognized by the ICC because what we need right now is a domestic focus. We need to spend the next five to ten years forgetting about the international side and building the United States cricket scene, the economic marketplace and the fan base from the ground up.”
“If you look back over the last 10 years of America playing in international tournaments, I can’t think of a single benefit to the United States as a cricket playing nation from having done all of that. From all of the highs and all of the lows, I can’t point to a pitch or a cricket facility or even a net somewhere that is a direct benefit of us having participated in that stuff. I think that instead it’s gotten people convinced that the ICC is the white knight that’s gonna come and save us, that the ICC and the international community loves America and they’re gonna save America. It’s a crutch that keeps us from running. The focus needs to be internal, not external. FIFA didn’t build soccer in the United States. Kids playing soccer in schools built soccer in the United States, not FIFA. By the same token, the ICC is not going to build cricket in America.”
Since being formed in 2010, the USYCA has been responsible for providing more than 1000 startup cricket kits to schools all across the USA. USYCA has also established partnerships with major corporate sponsors including MetLife and Reebok as well as arranged for renowned American fielding coach Mike Young to lead an instructional clinic in Maryland. In April, Harrison helped coordinate a visit to DreamCricket Academy in New Jersey by former Australian Test spinner Stuart MacGill upon which MacGill gave high praise to what he saw on display.
“After having spent an afternoon in the nets with a bunch of enthusiastic young American cricketers I'm no longer surprised,” MacGill wrote after his visit. “When you consider this was just a snapshot of youth cricket in the New Jersey region, it was impressive to say the least.”
USYCA was able to coordinate all of these things independently, but Harrison says that the time had come for USYCA to branch out and engage with a partner organization to help further their mission of spreading cricket to kids throughout the United States. After inviting proposals from both USACA and ACF, Harrison says the ACF offer was much more appealing to almost everyone who reviewed it. A major selling point was that ACF may have a wider reach. After USACA disenfranchised 32 of its 47 member leagues in the 2012 USACA election, many of those 32 leagues aligned themselves with ACF. In addition to those leagues though, ACF has made it a point to include tennis ball and softball cricket leagues as members whereas USACA only offers full membership status to hardball leagues.
“In the ACF, there are like twice as many softball leagues as there are hardball leagues and as far as I know, none of those softball leagues have really active youth programs,” Harrison said. “So that’s a market we can immediately reach out to and say we’d like to help you develop youth cricket. From the softball people I’ve met, a lot of them are really good people, altruistic kind of visionaries. I just think they’ve never been invited to the party before. So through our connections at ACF, we can now reach out to a whole segment of the cricket demographic that we’ve never had access to before.”
One reason Harrison feels that USACA’s proposal was voted down by his board was the insistence on taking over control of all the work that the USYCA and its subsidiary member organizations have developed at the local level. Harrison says that has been key to the overall success of the USYCA and that it’s important to defer to local governing bodies wherever possible. Instead, he says USACA’s offer, presented by USACA chief executive Darren Beazley, had intended to shift the USYCA from doing that.
“It was very much a model of a top-down model of dependency really where local organizations become gradually more and more dependent on an autocratic organization running cricket from cradle to grave in the United States,” Harrison said. “It very much rubbed me the wrong way. When Darren was explaining this idea to me of how USACA would run all cricket from cradle to grave and they would take the governance lead at all levels of amateur cricket and youth cricket, I told him, ‘You realize this is completely contrary to the existing American sports culture.’ In America, we pride ourselves on local governance. We pride ourselves on being independent organizational units. For example, Little League Baseball doesn’t take orders from Major League Baseball.”
“It drains people’s enthusiasm when you tell them what to do or make them submit to a higher authority. The ACF as an organization is very much in keeping with our principles and our outlook on US cricket. They’re a grassroots focused, domestic focused, bottom-up focused, altruistic organization. They believe in the strength of local volunteers and the local self-governance issue, the decentralization principle. We are very strong believers in decentralization. We believe in promoting strong local self-governance.”
Harrison knows some people may initially be skeptical of ACF’s intentions since they’ve only been around a very short time, but he believes USYCA has a tremendous amount to gain from establishing a partnership with them.
“Of course they’re the new kids on the block and I realize that a lot of people don’t know who they are and what they’re about and therefore they are suspicious,” Harrison said. “They’re like, ‘Oh these are just disgruntled people who couldn’t make it in USACA.’ But I’ve come to know a lot of them personally and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them not just as cricket stakeholders but as leaders and men of principle and I believe they’re going to be wise governors for their organization.”