The Evolution of Cricket in Prince George's County: Part 1 of 2
A foreign sport to most Americans, cricket finds traction in Prince George's County elementary schools.
There's a movement in Prince George's county that is changing the landscape of sport in this community. Cricket is an all-inclusive team sport that isn't just for the strong and athletic; it's also for thinkers and strategists.
In a county where home-grown sports like football, basketball and baseball are king, the sport of cricket is growing quickly in Prince George's County with about half of all elementary schools teaching the sport to its children.
I. Cricket in America: A Revival
"The major hurdle is ignorance. What we've found is that everywhere we take cricket, children and adults fall in love with the game."
~ Jamie Harrison, President of the United States Youth Cricket Association (USYCA)
Cricket has its roots in 16th century England, and made its way to America in the 17th century with the influx of immigrants. Many bat-and-ball games were brought over to America from England, but it was baseball – America's modification of the English versions – that became America's pastime, while cricket faded into the background.
Fast forward to April 2008 when U.S. History teacher Jamie Harrison, of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Baltimore, Md., took his students to Richmond, Va. to visit Civil War sites. It was there that Harrison, along with his students, learned about and fell in love with the game of cricket.
Harrison went on to organize and coach the only high school cricket team outside of the state of New York, while organizing a league for his students to play in. But shortly after, Harrison was laid off by Cardinal Gibbons just before the Archdiocese decided to shut the school down due to lack of funding.
Despite the setback, Harrison knew that there was a place for cricket in the U.S., especially in the schools. He also knew it was a sport worth teaching to youth; he needed young kids to have the same sort of learning experience his class had benefited from in Richmond.
Harrison went on to start the USYCA, a non-profit organization based in Maryland, that works hand-in-hand with the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) to grow the sport through youth involvement.
Through meeting with numerous physical educators within the state, blogging about his experiences with the sport and making a number of instructional teaching videos for educators interested in teaching Cricket on YouTube, Harrison has succeeded in organizing a sport that hadn't been able to sustain itself in this U.S.
"The USYCA is really a coming together of many people from all over America who love cricket and want to see more children have the opportunity to play. There have been a number of disconnected efforts by individuals and small groups to introduce American kids to the game, but without coordination and support, these efforts fizzled out...," Harrison said.
Harrison acknowledges that the main hurdle in developing an American cricket culture will be ignorance. To combat this hurdle, the USYCA has focused its efforts in growing the game with kids in elementary and middle schools, so that the game will have a base to build from. The USYCA's ability to spark interest in youths about the game will ultimately determine the sport's long-term staying power.
II. Why Cricket?
"Cricket rewards patience, technique and intelligence; stature has very little to do with eventual greatness. This encourages all children to participate, and draws out those typically disaffected. Children who may not ordinarily do well at team sports often find themselves excelling at cricket."
~ Jamie Harrison, President of the USYCA
Cricket is the second most popular spectator sport in the world, but in America's sporting landscape, one that is dominated by home-grown sports, there is little known about cricket to the average American sports enthusiast.
So why cricket? What advantages does this sport have over others? What different lessons does it teach in comparison with more commonly taught sports? Why should you have cricket in your child's school?
Harrison hit on one major factor as noted in the above quote: The sport is all-inclusive. Many children are taught basketball, baseball or football in their physical education classes. Sports that rely on athleticism can sometimes push a group of students to the side who can't match the pace of the other more athletic kids in the class.
Cricket provides more opportunities for the lesser athletic kids to engage themselves in a sport by using "patience, technique and intelligence" to equalize with more athletic kids. The sport provides niche roles to the athletic levels of children, who will grow in self-confidence by being introduced to a game that makes them feel like a true contributor, rather than an outlier on the periphery.
Another reason for introducing cricket to schools is the sport's ability to be played on any kind of surface. Cricket can be played on a grass field, on a black top and even indoors, in an auditorium, or on a gym floor. The game is very flexible in that regard because the equipment is easy to carry and set-up for a match.
Which brings up additional questions: Who is paying for the equipment? And how do physical educators learn the game to teach to their children?
Harrison said, "The USYCA Schools Program donates cricket equipment and instruction to schools without condition or requirements. The only thing necessary is for a school, or school system, to simply request that they be included in the program. That's it."
Harrison's goal is to spread the sport and afford young children the opportunity to learn a game that they wouldn't otherwise get to enjoy. The USYCA has a partnership with dreamcricket.com that allows them to give new cricket sets to physical educators, so they can teach the sport to their students free of cost.
Finally, the sport is safe for children to play. The ball used for cricket at most levels is a very hard, sometimes dangerous ball, but the donated cricket sets include a modified spongier-type ball that will not be a danger to the children.
Also in cricket, when a player strikes the ball with a plastic bat, the batter must hold on to the bat as they advance to score a run. In baseball, the batter uses an aluminum bat, which sometimes is thrown instead of being dropped after making contact with the ball. By using safer equipment and holding the bat while advancing, cricket provides a safe sport for children to enjoy and an assurance of child safety for the parents.
Check back first thing tomorrow for the second part to see how cricket is being implemented in Prince George's County and what the future holds for the sport in the area.