Cricket For Kids: A Safe, Fun Sport That Prizes Sportsmanship

Everyone agrees that adults must take responsibility for themselves. What is concerning, however, is that the examples of intense, dangerous play that many pro athletes provide gradually become the accepted norm in the sports our children play. My son was a victim of just this sort of reckless environment when, as a 12 year-old football player, he had his arm broken in two places by an opposing player who targeted him from across the field for a blindside hit.

A recent LA Times editorial dealt with the increasing frequency of pediatric concussions, and drew a direct correlation to the types of sports played and the hyper-competitive sports environment in which we now raise our children.

Here’s an excerpt:

“According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics in August that examined U.S. emergency room visits from 1997 to 2007, the number of concussions related to the five most popular competitive youth sports more than doubled among this age group, even though participation in those sports declined slightly. Among 14- to 19-year-olds, the number of concussions tripled. Altogether, there were about 250,000 concussions among young competitive athletes.

The numbers might reflect parents and coaches seeking immediate medical attention for children’s head injuries. But researchers believe other factors are involved as well, such as longer, more intense playing seasons and practices…

More research is needed on the causes and long-term effects of concussion on children and teenagers. But youth athletic leagues, state health officials and schools should be taking action now. Lisa Bakhos, the lead researcher on the Pediatrics study, suggests a return to more varied sports activities for children, played more for fun and less as structured competition. Youth league rules should be modified to reduce blows to the head, and parents should be informed about concussion risks from the start. Parents of a child who sustains two concussions should be counseled to consider whether it might be time for a switch to a sport such as running, with less potential for head injury.”

At the United States Youth Cricket Association, we are committed to bringing a fun and safe sport that prizes sportsmanship above all else to American children.  Prince George’s County PE teacher Charles Silberman agrees. In the September 15 issue of Md AHPERD eNEWS, he said this:

“As physical education teachers, we have a wonderful opportunity to use sport as a way to teach character and build students’ esteem. I would make your next unit specifically character-based using sports as the venue or start to implement a character-based behavior system into your teaching. Three examples of these suggestions are described below.

The first is the game of Cricket. Yes, cricket! In cricket, disrespect is not allowed. If a player looks at the umpire the wrong way, he can be suspended for multiple games without pay. Because around 80% of our communication is non-verbal, and a majority of students display disrespect with body posturing, I love using Cricket to highlight the importance of non-verbal communication and express that there are consequences for all disrespectful actions. In addition, teaching a new and foreign sport allows students to learn about another culture and how others may view our students character traits such as disrespect. This, then, becomes a launching board for discussing character more in detail and also acts as a mirror where students can see how their value system looks to others. Once they see this, they begin to internalize the notion that others receive poor principles negatively and that they might need to change their value system if they want to operate in the outside world.”

Clearly, cricket is demonstrating its value for schools and for children, and as the number of boys and girls playing our game grows it will certainly take its place among America’s most popular sports.

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At Cardinal Gibbons, We Played Cricket! (And Lost An Opportunity To Save The School.)


Last year, I coached the only American high school cricket team outside of New York City. It was created by a group of American kids who, without ever having played a hardball game, had already fallen in love with the sport. How did this come to pass? Well, it all started in Virginia, in April of 2008.

As a U.S. History teacher at the Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore, I often led field trips to the many historic sites in the area, and that April, I led a group of students on a two-day visit to Civil War sites in Richmond. Our first stop was the American Civil War Center at the site of the Tredegar Iron Works. After watching a cannon-firing demonstration, a smallish man in period clothing called out to our group, asking if we would like to play cricket. We agreed to have a look at the game, and from that point on, my life has had an added dimension.

The man was Tom Melville, an interpreter who has spent many years introducing hundreds of Americans to cricket at festivals, fairs, and reenactments in over a dozen states and Canada. He’s also the author of “Cricket For Americans” and “The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America.” He learned cricket at the University of Wales, but he now lives in Wisconsin. We gathered around Tom, and he gave us a very simplified explanation of cricket.

Listening to Tom Melville are (from left to right) Don Erdman, Don Grey, Will Arsenault, Will Berkey and Ryan Kelly

The same group, with Tim Schmidt and myself in the photo

In this modified version, a rubber ball was pitched underhanded, but otherwise, the basic rules applied. Our group was soon split into two teams, and before long, we were playing the centuries-old game of cricket.

Student Ryan Kelly calling his shot, a la Babe Ruth.

Current UMBC Student Will Arsenault, who was the “Man of the Match”

We probably played for about an hour, and it turned out to be the most fun we had all weekend. While we were still in Richmond, the boys were already talking about finding a way to play cricket after they returned to school in Baltimore. I said supportive things, but didn’t really believe that their new infatuation would last. I was wrong.

By the time I got back to my classroom on Monday morning, a nascent cricket club had already begun to develop. All that Monday, students kept showing up in front of my desk, asking when they would be able to play cricket. At that point, however, we had no equipment of any kind, not even a ball. So I went home that night and started spending my money online – soft cricket balls, Kashmir willow tennis ball bats and plastic stumps sets all went on my credit card. I trusted that I could eventually get my money back, but honestly, I wasn’t sure if the fad would last long enough for that to happen.

Once the cricket gear came in, I took the boys to an open part of the athletic field and set up the wickets. From that point on, the game took care of the rest. The students organized themselves into teams and taught themselves the game; I mainly watched, acted as occasional umpire and collected up the gear when they were done. Soon, after-school cricket had a fairly large following at Cardinal Gibbons.

Keith Hess places a stroke to the Forward Short Leg

Keith Hess places a stroke to the Forward Short Leg

Chris Sutton makes solid contact

Every day after school, there would be a dozen or so students in my classroom, nagging me to quit working and start cricket. My history classes also became diverted by students trying to move the subject to cricket, rather than schoolwork. On rainy days, we watched the Indian Premier League on my laptop, and discussed rules, players and nations. By the month of May, there were over 50 cricket players, and they wanted something more organized. We sold polos, collected money for more equipment and uniforms, and made plans to divide the boys into four teams for a fall league.

These teams then played a ten-week intramural cricket season, on a real cricket mat, starting in August when we reconvened at school. Members of the Baltimore Cricket Club, led by Gregory Alleyne, volunteered to help teach the boys the game, which was the first time that any of them had any real coaching. It went incredibly well, and the league was even featured in a story in the Baltimore Sun.

The photograph that appeared in the Sun.

Fast bowler Don Erdman


Will Foy

After we had crowned a champion that November, many of the players weren’t content to leave it at that – they wanted to play real cricket, with real, alum coated, rock-hard cricket balls. Fortunately, the family of an alumnus, the Patidars, had a pallet’s worth of real cricket equipment shipped to us from Mumbai, so, with just one more round of contributions, we had everything we needed, except, of course, other teams to play against.

With only a vague plan to play demonstration matches at area high schools in place, the Cardinal Gibbons Cricket Team began workouts inside the frigid gymnasium in January. There was a bit of conditioning, a bit of skills work and then a pick up game at the end of each Saturday’s practice. An eight-grader who was unsure about whether to come to Cardinal Gibbons or Archbishop Curley, Ashker Asharaff from Sri Lanka, started practicing with us, and was soon accepted as “one of the guys.” Gregory Alleyne stopped by occasionally to work with the boys, too. It was around this time that Megan Godfrey of the Baltimore Cricket Club put us in contact with Keith Gill, of the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board, who at that moment was trying to organize a youth cricket league. A prayer had been answered.

Ashker Asharaff

Not long after, Keith visited us at practice, accompanied by Gladstone Dainty, President of the United States of America Cricket Association, which is the governing body of American cricket. Dainty watched us practice for a time, and then got involved personally, helping the guys with their technique. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. After practice, he spoke to the team, telling us how important it was for cricket to spread to kids like themselves, who had no cricketing background.

(From left to right: Justin Bruchey (manager), Gregory Alleyne, Jamie Harrison, Keith Gill, John Boland

(From left to right) Justin Bruchey, Gregory Alleyne, Jamie Harrison, Keith Gill, John Boland

Mr. Dainty & me

Don Erdman bowls to Mr. Dainty

(From left to right) Will Berkey, Gladstone Dainty, Jon Marshall, Justin Bruchey

By March, temperatures had risen enough to allow us to practice outside, and we were soon joined by two new coaches, Trevor Roberts and Mike Thomas of the British Officer’s Cricket Club of Philadelphia. Every week, the team worked out on the football field. (Which they did not destroy. This, for some reason, was a great fear of the groundskeeper, who had somehow convinced himself that cricket was harder on grass than football. Go figure.) By May, the time had come to play our first match.

Finally, the pre-game ceremony ended, the moment of truth arrived. It was time to play cricket.

The first Gibbons batters, Justin Bruchey and Will Berkey

Justin Bruchey

Will Berkey

Jeff Thornton

Keith Hess

Don Erdman

Even though we were only playing 20 over matches, we lost bad in our early matches, usually by over 100 runs. But we accepted our fate, since we were playing against experienced cricketers from cricket-playing countries. In June, we became more international, being joined by Jayson Delsing, a player from South Africa, and Quincey Samuels, from Jamaica. Later two brothers of Indian descent from Philadelphia showed up at our match, asking to play. Having added our own experienced cricketers, the gap closed considerably.

Jayson Delsing and Quincy Samuels, our “ringers”

During the year or so that we had been playing cricket, I had been working long and feverishly to generate publicity for our program. My efforts paid off rather well, I think, as we received print coverage in the Baltimore Sun (multiple times), the Catholic Review and the Press Box. We also were discussed on 98 Rock‘s morning radio program. We also got quite a bit of coverage from the online cricket media, including Dreamcricket and Cricket World. For a time, it seemed like the world was watching us.

Another thing I did to garner support was to send emails to the major test-playing nation’s governing cricket bodies. Only Cricket Australia responded, and they were absolutely fantastic.  I exchanged many emails with CA’s Rebecca Mulgrew, who put me in touch with Dave Tomlin of Western Australia’s Kent Street Senior High School’s cricket program and sent me a lot of great coaching materials. She told me how much Australia wanted to see cricket succeed in America, and while they knew it would be “tough slogging,” CA would be following us closely. Here’s a letter she sent me:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I quickly became Cricket Australia’s #1 American fan, and many of the boys started following Punter and the Aussies as well.

Another great experience I had was to be a part of the West Indies Cricket Board Level 1 Cricket Coaching Course, the first ever held in the United States. Windies coaches Wendell Coppin and Stephanie Power were great, and I was able to network with many of the Atlantic Region’s key people. I also spent a lot of time talking up the need to develop youth cricket in America, and how I believed that our program was just the beginning. Officials at USACA were really excited about what we were doing, and they looked forward to helping us grow.

In mid summer, it seemed like we were ready to take cricket to the next level.

For the first six months of 2009, we had been a magnet for cricket aficionados from all over the Mid Atlantic. At practices, guys from Pakistan, India, and other cricketing nations would show up to watch, talk cricket and ask about our plans. Many of these people were doctors and independent businessmen with teenagers at home who longed to play cricket. I received phone calls from investors who wanted to know if Cardinal Gibbons was interested in various “partnerships.” I began thinking about how our program might take advantage of being “the only game in town” for those in America who loved cricket.

At about the same time, I was told by David Brown, the school’s principal, that due to drastic budget cuts, I was being laid off from teaching. Enrollment was down again, I was told, and 40% of the tuitions of those who were enrolled were in arrears, which made the school a budgetary disaster. For too long we had been accepting any student that applied, regardless of ability to pay, and now the Archdiocese had given the school a year to get its act together. (The Archdiocese had just announced the closing of Towson Catholic High School, and there was a somber feeling at Cardinal Gibbons, wondering if we were to be next.) I went home that night, and after having made a few phone calls, knew what to do.

I spent the next few days designing a plan that would save cricket and Cardinal Gibbons School at the same time. It seemed like an idea, that, if not perfect, was at least guaranteed to reverse the school’s enrollment conundrum.

What I proposed was that Cardinal Gibbons School become the home to the United States’ first cricket academy. We would add elective courses in cricket (we already had elective courses such as “weight training” and “Gym II”), teach the game in Phys Ed classes and generally, make cricket an important part of the Gibbons culture. By doing this, we would attract the children of expatriates, such as the doctors at St. Agnes Hospital across the street. My experience with this group of students was that they were typically high achievers from well-off families – exactly what Gibbons needed to turn around its enrollment mess (I had two prospective students’ applications already in hand). I would become a cricket student-athlete recruiter, personally visiting clubs, associations and private homes, scouring the area for likely candidates. I also proposed a plan to spread cricket to gym classes at the middle and elementary schools, which even if only partially successful, would create a ready-made feeder system for Gibbons. We would also become a magnet for the investors that had been looking for a place to put their money. This plan worked for cricket and Cardinal Gibbons – the prototypical win-win. The only thing I needed was for the school to provide the start-up money to launch.

I first pitched the plan to the Archdiocese, which after a few days, called me back to say that they endorsed the plan, and that the Archbishop was “intrigued” by its potential. Next, I spoke to the Mr. Brown, explaining the importance of changing the trajectory of the school’s enrollment, in light of what was happening to Towson Catholic. He seemed supportive, but told me that he could make no budgetary decisions without first getting the approval of the school board. A few days later I met with Jonathan Smith, President of the school board, and explained the plan. Smith seemed less impressed. He told me that the school board had decided that there would be no new investment in the school for the coming year; their entire focus was on slashing expenditures as deeply as possible, and trying to raise money to offset the budget deficit, with the goal being a balanced annual budget. He was convinced that if this was done, the Archdiocese would not close the school.

When I explained that the Archdiocese, in public comments after the closing of Towson Catholic, had made it clear that enrollment trends were a critical factor in whether to close a school, Smith seem uninterested. The school board, I was told, was certain that the only consideration would be whether or not the school was in the black by December. Anything that jeopardized that would not be considered. Plus, the board had already decided to give a private individual $3500 a month to fundraise for them. It was suggested that I ask the alumni to invest in my plan.

That July, the Alumni Association had responded to the crisis with a plan of its own, the “Gibbons Forever Endeavor,” which was a complicated attempt to reorganize the school’s fundraising database, presumably with a fundraising push then to follow. At the first meeting to announce this initiative, I was allowed to pitch my plan, but none of those in attendance, save Carmel Kelly (an early supporter), saw any value in it. Alumni I spoke to individually said that they would continue their habit of donating only to sports teams that they favored. I found this attitude mind-boggling to say the least. It was like watching people rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

Scrambling, I called potential cricket investors, whose enthusiasm was dampened by the idea of sinking money into a school that either didn’t care for cricket that much, or was so near to closing that they couldn’t even provide the seed money for it. I was repeatedly told that their money was contingent upon the school’s firm commitment to the academy. Exasperated, I returned to the school board, which once again rejected the plan. The Archdiocese, along with a number of parents interested in sending their kids to Gibbons, asked me how things were going – I had no good news to report.

I began to wonder if the disinterest was a result of cricket being too “foreign,” or maybe because most of the players were honor students instead of “jocks.” I know that the other sports programs at Gibbons resented the attention that cricket had been getting in the press, and that the groundskeeper had long been agitated with me for forcing the football team to share its field with us. (He actually said to me, “That is a football field, not a cricket field!”) Once, his lawn tractor that was used to mow the grass had run over a lost cricket ball, and he demanded $38 in compensation for the “damaged blade,” even though it routinely ran over baseballs with no ill effects. I paid the $38.

By August, the cricket season was over and it was clear that my efforts to start a cricket academy had failed. I returned the few thousand dollars that had already been donated by cricketers, and called the investors to let them know. On a sad day in August, I returned to Cardinal Gibbons one last time to collect my personal belongings and return my key to the barn shed where the cricket equipment was stored, leaving the school to its fate.

And so, what may have been the last, best hope of the Cardinal Gibbons School was locked away inside a shed, never to be seen again. And that, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of all.

Follow @umbchelpdesk on Twitter!

Why endure an information blackout when you can be the first to know?

You can stay on top of breaking news involving UMBC’s information systems and technologies by following us on Twitter @umbchelpdesk.  From security alerts to system outages and restorations, @umbchelpdesk will keep you informed about what’s going on, as it happens!

Curious? Here we are!

JamieUMBC Joins The MyUMBC Development Team!

The MyUMBC team is Collier Jones, Bradley Tinney, Billy Schneider, Kevin Somers, and now – me!

As many of you know, I’m fortunate enough to be a staffer at UMBC’s Department of Information Technology. And many of the folks at DoIT know that I like to write stuff, as evidenced by this blog. Now, in a wonderful synergy of two things that I love (technology and writing), I have been asked to assist the awesome team that works behind the scenes to make the magic that is MyUMBC.

Now, if you remember an earlier post of mine, you know that I’m not nearly smart enough to do what the MyUMBC team does on a daily basis. Fortunately, I’m not being asked to do any of the heavy lifting (read: coding). What I’ll be doing is writing about all of the nifty and useful things that are happening with MyUMBC, and helping the UMBC community to get the most out of the great tools they’ll find there. It sounds like I’ll be having a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Last week I had my first meeting with team leader and coder extraordinaire Collier Jones, and as he gave my a quick tour around the beta version of MyUMBC, I just couldn’t believe how great it looked. The Events area, for example, is designed with many clever tools and yet is is so easy to use, I find it hard to imagine how much work must have gone into making it happen. If you’d like to have a look yourself, here it is. Or, you can just admire this screenshot:

So now I get to both enjoy our new tech tools and write about them, too.

Sweet.

MHEC Ruling On UMUC Program Must Be Reversed

Last October, the Maryland Higher Education Commission ruled that University of Maryland University College‘s online doctoral program in community college administration was a duplication of Morgan State‘s face-to-face program and thus a violation of civil rights protections in place for historically black colleges. As a result, UMUC is now prohibited from offering the course in Maryland, although curiously, it can offer the course in the other 49 states.

The MHEC‘s misguided ruling reflects not a bias toward Morgan State as much as it reflects the age of the members of the Commission, with the only member of the Commission younger than 45 being the student representative. The delivery system for higher education in America is being rapidly altered by existing and emerging technologies, and these changes require a modern, more nuanced way of thinking about universities, what they offer and how they serve the needs of the community. I have firsthand knowledge of this, being enrolled in UMBC’s online Instructional Systems Development program.

To anyone paying attention, it is clear that various forms of distance learning will play an increasing role in the delivery system of the nation’s colleges. As this occurs, there will necessarily be overlap with some traditional programs. However, it is a mistake to treat online courses as if they were classroom courses for the purpose of excluding them. We should be encouraging the development of parallel online courses, not shutting them down. And giving Morgan State, a university with limited online experience, two years to create something from nothing, is at best a weak nod in the direction of distance learning.

What the commissioners may not understand is that UMUC’s program isn’t competing with Morgan State’s – it’s competing with other online programs across the country. The MHEC’s decision presupposes that the market served by Morgan State, traditional students available for attendance in a classroom, is the same group of people targeted by UMUC’s online program. Clearly, this is not the case. Online learners are almost always working adults seeking to fulfill their educational requirements while maintaining job, family and other commitments (like me).

The good news is that the university system’s Board of Regents is unwilling to surrender so easily, and will ask the Commission to reconsider. From the Sun article:

“The decision completely ignores a stated priority in the 2009 Maryland State Plan for Higher Education,” wrote Board of Regents Chairman Clifford Kendall in a letter to the commission. “The State Plan supports access to degrees through online programs in order to meet ‘the needs of a largely working, adult population who require a flexible schedule.’ This decision sets a potentially debilitating precedent that will discourage universities from doing the very thing that MHEC’s state plan charges them to do.”

Demonstrating his antiquated view of the situation, MHEC Chairman Kevin O’Keefe said, “I remain convinced that this was an isolated issue.” Even more depressing is O’Keefe’s belief that there will not be a “…strong sentiment among the majority of our members that we should reconsider the issue.”

Perhaps it is asking too much of this particular group of individuals to free themselves of a lifetime of assumptions about higher education and the way this product is delivered to its market. Too often, membership on the MHEC is a reward for a career of service to the community and while this may seem noble, it deprives the commission of the benefit of fresh thinking and new ideas. It may be that the only way for Maryland to become a leader in e-Learning, m-Learning and other non-traditional delivery systems is to replace (or supplement) the existing members of the MHEC with individuals who are not so tied to the past. I just hope that by the time this happens, national leadership in higher education hasn’t fallen too far from our grasp.

Winter Session 2010 – Baby, It’s Quiet Outside


The Winter Session is a great opportunity to grab some extra credits in just a few short weeks of what would otherwise be considered down time. Let’s face it: the winter break is too short to do anything productive, like land a job, so why not get closer to graduating instead of lying on the couch gaining weight?

Still, for those of you who go home every December, and maybe wonder what it’s like around UMBC during the Winter Session, let me give you one word: quiet. Yes, there are classes going on, just not many. Yes, there are students on campus, just not many. Yes, there are activities and fun things to do, just not many. So for those not here, I present this pictorial:

The first thing you’ll see when you arrive on campus are largely unbroken fields of asphalt where automobiles normally are. These are parking spaces, which come out of hibernation in the Winter Session.

Lot 9 at the Engineering Building

Lot 8 next to the UMBC Police station

The next thing you’ll notice is that it’s cold in early January – I mean really cold.

The glass is always half full at the Commons

Aerodynamics could be tested here. Wind chill -10°F.

During the Winter Session, you’re struck by how large the campus feels.

Between AOK and PUP

With no competition, everything seems open, free and orderly.

Clean as a whistle in January

Plenty of available computers at the AOK Library

Need to eat fast? No problem.

Plenty of open tables

Of course, it's quiet at the Help Desk, too.

No lines in the Bookstore

All clear at the Yum Shoppe

Yep, neat and orderly

Of course, shops have limited hours and some, like Starbucks and Pura Vida Cafe are closed altogether.

No coffee to be had here

So, to all of you at home, stay warm and enjoy your Winter Break. UMBC will be here waiting for you when you get back.

On the wall at the Help Desk, ECS 020

At The UMBC Basketball Game (Thanks, UMBC Training Centers!)


A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win a pair of basketball tickets from UMBC Training Centers. The seats for last night’s game against Penn were in a great location, at center court, just four rows behind Media Row. As a bonus, the women’s team was playing the early game, and my wife and I arrived in time to see the ladies rally from 5 down with 1:36 left, only to have Carlee Cassidy’s potential game-tying shot bounce off the rim as time expired.

Here are some of the images I captured at the game:

It was a pretty good crowd for a Wednesday during Winter Break.

Damon Massenburg works with me at the Help Desk, and he was at the game, too.

Damon not only works for the Help Desk, he also works for the basketball team. (And who says there's no work out there for students?)

Between games, my wife and I settled into our seats and soaked up the pregame atmosphere. Not everything, I’ll admit, made sense to us.

We watched as stunned coaches struggled to comprehend nervous players' strange behavior before the game.

The UMBC players entered the gym through a giant Moon Bounce.

Just before tipoff, the players gathered to share secrets, oddly enough, in the most public place they could find. It was like they were intentionally excluding us from their club and I felt hurt. And sad.

The radio broadcasters had this cool software that told them if they were pronouncing their French vocabulary correctly.

This printer on media row wiped out the paper equivalent of six cords of firewood while I was at the game.

This nice gentleman came by to collect the reams of printed paper and distribute them to random individuals scattered about the gym floor.

At one point, True Grit rushed the floor and tried to incite a rebellion, but no one seemed to notice.

During a timeout there was an attempted robbery; and then the mugger realized that all he was likely to get from a crowd of college students was about ten bucks and half a bottle of Five Hour Energy.

The Cheerleaders demonstrating their patented "Have another cheerleader stand on your hands" stunt. We, along with everyone else present, were very impressed.

"The Stunt" can be successfully deployed in various locations on the gym floor, as demonstrated here.

The radio broadcasters' attention remains riveted on the potential for tragedy inherent in "The Stunt."

The Dance Team, like a rival gang in a Broadway musical, are not impressed by "The Stunt." They take the floor from the Cheerleaders and begin distracting the crowd by remaining perfectly still.

The Cheerleaders, seething from the corner, plot their revenge against the Dance Team.

Finally, in a fit of pique, the Cheerleaders storm the floor, scattering the Dance Team. Once having retaken their ground, they stake their claim by performing "The Stunt."

Eventually, having conceded the night to the Cheerleaders and the near mythical power of “The Stunt,” the game resumes, and UMBC loses to Penn, 82-71.

And that’s what it’s like at a UMBC basketball game – at least the way I remember it.