Cricket Must Embrace Its Nuclear Plant

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When I was a senior in college, I wrote a research paper that explored the ways in which the coming of a nuclear power plant changed one very rural, very poor, Maryland county. I also examined the feelings of longtime residents who had seen the changes occur. In many ways, the truths I uncovered are echoed in the world of modern cricket, and are, I think, instructional.

In 1970, Calvert County was one of Maryland’s most rural counties, with a sparse population and a seasonal calendar that had revolved, for over three hundred years, around the tobacco harvest. Its population of nearly 15,000 people was protected by a single sheriff and his four deputies. The pace of life was slow and easy. Time had seemingly passed the county by.

All of that changed when the county became the site of the state’s first, and only, nuclear power plant. The economic impact was revolutionary, as revenue and unprecedented growth flooded the land. County spending per capita was able to increase from $168 in FY 1971 to $639 in FY 1981, while school spending increased fivefold. Soon, Calvert County would become a place where larger roads carried more demanding taxpayers to their jobs in Washington, while their children attended numerous well-funded public schools.

The demographics of the county changed as well. By 2006, only 9% of Calvert County residents were 65 years of age or older and nearly 55% of county residents were college educated. By 2004, the median household income was estimated to be almost $75,000. 61% of those employed could be classified as white-collar.

In short, nothing was the same, and many longtime residents hated it – and were happy to tell you so.

“I miss leaving home with my hunting dog and not seeing a lot of houses,” one said. “From 3:30-6:00 in the evening there’s a raft of cars and trucks; I miss the open roads.”  Another reflected on the loss of forestland in the county. “I miss the open spaces. My Dad had acreage up in Huntingtown and we’d go wandering through the woods. Now, there are no woods; it’s all subdivisions now.”

So, what does all this have to do with cricket? Nothing, and everything.

Cricket has been, for many years now, struggling with an identity crisis. Does Test cricket, which stands as the guardian of the ancient traditions, still have a future in the game? If so, how can it be maintained when cricket’s best players are increasingly lured away to more lucrative competitions? Or should cricket simply accede to the demands of modern, commercialized sport, and accept the inevitable?

One thing is certain, and that is the relationship between domestic T20 leagues and the vitality of that country’s cricket landscape. One only has to look at the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League to see the value of these competitions, not merely as income-generators, but more importantly as vehicles to connect with a broader, and largely younger audience, which is a key indicator of future health.

To demonize the preeminence of domestic T20 competitions (and frankly any cricket product which helps to increase the game’s fan base in a given country), is truly a pyrrhic pursuit that can only retard the sport. The phrase “proper cricket,” often utilized as a weapon to demean formats that do not reflect a preferred era, is as nonsensical today as it would have been in 1864, when overarm bowling was legalized.

So, can Test cricket survive? Of course it can, but, just as Calvert County’s 4H fairs do today, more as a pleasant reminder of an earlier time than as the centerpiece of the game. Test cricket came into being as a pastoral celebration, as a spirited exhibition of Victorian sportsmanship, and there its character remains. Its relaxing pace gives us time to observe, reflect, and debate without the crushing pressure of a time clock. This is something to be cherished in today’s frenetic world.

Until very recently, I was one of those who wondered how Test cricket might be redesigned for modern relevance. What I discovered is that the proposed changes would be unlikely to attract more fans – it would simply be stripping Test cricket of its charm. As in Aesop’s story about the dog seeing his reflection in the water, we would be sacrificing those who love Test cricket as it has always been, in hopes of attracting those who probably will never be long-term fans.

For Test cricket to have meaning, I now realize, we need to stop reimagining it as something it’s not. We have to accept that it is a time capsule, an anachronism, a memorial to an age gone by. But we also have to accept that, like the treasured keepsake it is, it may not be seen as frequently as it was in earlier times, but this will make its appearance all the more special, and more cherished.

Cricket is evolving, as all things evolve. Were it not to evolve, it would soon become extinct, so this is a good thing. That doesn’t mean we must completely dispose of our cherished past, but it does mean that, for the sake of the thing we love, we must embrace that which represents its future, and the benefits it indirectly brings us, whether that be a nuclear plant, or in cricket’s case, a glitzy, obnoxious, short-form spectacle.

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An Open Letter To Shane And Sachin

Shane and Sachin,

Please forgive my insolence in daring to speak to you directly, but in light of what’s about to happen, I feel as if you are owed the truth.

First, let me assert my credentials: I belong to a very rare demographic – the adult, American-born-and-raised cricket fan. There may be a few dozen of us in existence, to the best of my knowledge. But being in this demographic group gives me a unique insight that I think allows me to speak on the subject of your All-Stars tour next month.

From the figures I’ve seen, it looks like ticket sales to the three matches have been, let’s say, underwhelming. Considering the prices you are asking for them, this is not entirely surprising. But another factor in our lukewarm response is also the terrible job that’s been done marketing this event to America. I’m sorry, but this has been a classic case of “too little, too late.”

To start with, waiting until just one month before the first match to make the official announcement was a terrible idea. No one, not even you two, could have hoped to have thrown together a decent advertising campaign for such a revolutionary concept and made significant traction in a little over four weeks. Frankly, you needed to have rolled this out over the summer, and to have been selling it nonstop, and hard, since then.

And how have you been selling it? Almost not at all. If I weren’t active on Twitter and Facebook, I might not know anything about the three matches. Oh, Shane, that reminds me. I was online and saw your interview with the national morning program. Just one problem: It was in the wrong country. You should be doing those with every local U.S. television station that’ll have you, not just Channel Nine. But where are you on TV over here, Shane? Not at all. (And don’t say you’re waiting until you’re over here in November. That’s far too late. In fact, it’s probably too late now.)

And how about you, Sachin? I know that in India, you necessarily have to remain aloof, for your own safety, but here in the States, almost no one knows who you are. We need to see you, and hear from you. We need you to tell us why we should pay attention to your tour. Instead all we get is a canned interview and a photo of you in the nets. Why even bother, then? You said you hoped this tour would get Americans to exchange baseball bats for cricket bats, but what are you doing to make that happen?

Honestly, you two, and some of the other players, should have been over here, doing promotional work, months ago. If the travel costs are limiting, then how about something inexpensive, like live videoconferencing with American youth squads? How exciting that would’ve been for them (and their parents), and each event could’ve been locally hyped as free publicity for the tour. But instead, all we get are retweets and Facebook posts.

Also, it should be noted that, if you really wanted to reach American non-fans, you had to know that pricing your tickets the way you did made that a joke. Once the prices were set, you had already narrowed the tour’s market to fanatical expats. That’s fine, but at that point you should’ve stopped pretending that there was a developmental aspect to the tour, especially if you had also decided to do nothing to widely promote the game.

And, by the way: Stop saying that you’re “bringing cricket to America.” We’ve been playing cricket here for three hundred years, thank you very much, and have more recreational players than nearly all of the ICC Test nations do. The USA is Cricinfo’s second-largest consumer of cricket, so yeah, we’ve got cricket.

You know what really gets American cricket fans jacked up? Seeing cricket on free American media, and out in American society in general. If a cricket highlight gets on SportsCenter, we go crazy, because we are desperate for national legitimacy. When Million-Dollar Arm came out, we were buzzing. You know what would’ve been nice along that line? Billboards. Simple billboards. We would’ve been so excited to see a cricket event advertised on a major metropolitan highway. But no, not even that.

Please understand: I’m not a hater. When the whispers started about your plans, I had very high hopes. And I really can’t face the prospect of another North American cricket failure. I just can’t. Maybe that’s why I’m so let down, guys. Your tour had so much potential, especially if you had spent serious time directly engaging with us Americans, and given yourselves a full week between matches to interact with the local communities. Instead, you’ve stayed far away, content to shout at us through social media. Honestly, it’s all just so disappointing.

You know, I was offered the chance to go to New York for your match, all expenses paid, along with an opportunity to meet you, but my heart just wasn’t in it, and I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to accept it. So, I’ll be home in Maryland instead.

Now, with the tour dates almost here, I can only hope that American cricket will not be judged too harshly, and that there might be a next time when, with better planning and execution, a more successful tour might come off. Yep. That’s my dream now.

Good luck and best wishes for your visit to America.

Your American friend,

Jamie

Impressed, Unimpressed: Why The Ravens Will Win Super Bowl XLVII

When I attempt to size up the teams playing in Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday, I first look at the path each took to get here. This gives me an idea of how well the team is playing against better opposition, in its most recent games. Let’s start with the 49ers.

After its first-round bye, San Francisco comfortably won a home game against the Green Bay Packers. For a few fleeting days before this, many “experts” had been saying that the Packers were a team that “no one wants to see.” This baffled me.

The Packers blew a chance to clinch the second seed and a first round bye against a mediocre Vikings team in week 17, and then beat the same team at home, after the Vikings were forced to play the forgettable Joe Webb for an injured Christian Ponder. This is the team the 49ers defeated after a week’s rest at home. Sorry, but McKayla and I were not impressed.
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Then, the 49ers played an Atlanta Falcons team that I never really bought into. The Falcons played too many bad games in 2012 that they somehow managed to win, and I never expected them to get to the Super Bowl. When the Falcons gagged against the Seahawks, and came within seconds of blowing an easy win, my doubts were reinforced.

Against the 49ers, Atlanta again jumped out to a big lead, and again tanked in the second half, allowing the game to slip away. Even so, they still might have beaten San Francisco had Matt Ryan seen a wide open Tony Gonzales at the end of the game. But he didn’t, and predictably, the 49ers survived. Once again, we were not impressed.
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The Ravens on the other hand, playing without a bye week, took care of business at home against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, and then traveled to Denver as 10 point underdogs to take on Peyton Manning and the #1 seed Broncos. Despite giving up 14 special teams points, the Ravens refused to give in and rallied for one of the most exciting wins in franchise history. McKayla and I were very impressed.

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Not content with that, the Ravens then went out and beat Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxborough. Joe Flacco lit up what was supposed to be a formidable Patriots defense and just to make the point, the Ravens shut out Tom Terrific in the second half – in his own house. We were again very impressed.

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So now, having beaten Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road, in freezing conditions on successive weeks, I’m supposed to be afraid of Colin Kaepernick? OK, right.

I’m sure that Kaepernick is a great weapon, and may be the reason the 49ers are in the Super Bowl, but it seems to me that his success is almost entirely dependent on the opposing defense’s mistakes. Given two weeks to prepare, I just don’t see the veteran Ravens defense breaking assignments often enough to allow Kaepernick to be a game-changer. (He’s not Superman. It’s not like no one’s ever won against Kaepernick; he lost twice in the last two months of the regular season.)

What I expect the Ravens to do is to allow Kaepernick small successes, and force him into 12-14 play drives, with many third-downs. In short, they’ll play smart, assignment football, deny him the big play, and force him to work hard for every score. Even if the 49ers convert 7 out of 14 third down opportunities, that’s seven times they have to punt or kick a field goal, ending the drive.

Also bear in mind that it took the Ravens two series to figure out RGIII, who they later broke. (Yes, they lost in Washington, but not because of Griffin.)

The beginning of the end for RGIII

The beginning of the end for RGIII

 

 

 

 

 

On the flip side, I expect Flacco to throw well against the 49ers secondary. After two games in arctic-like conditions, passing in a dome will be like a dream come true for Joe, and the Niners secondary is no match for the Ravens receivers. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will stretch the field, while Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta work underneath.

And then there’s Ray Rice, who is incredibly dangerous either rushing or catching passes. For the 49ers defense, it’ll be pick-your-poison.

In the end, I expect Kaepernick and the 49ers to score between 21-24 points on Sunday, while I look for Flacco and the Ravens to hang 28-35 on the scoreboard.

In this game, the intangibles also favor the Ravens, such as the “underdog-no respect” card, Ray’s Last Ride, the “team of destiny” thing, and the depth of veteran, playoff-experienced players. This is why Baltimore bends, but never breaks.

Of course, special teams and turnovers are always a wild card, and if Flacco goes cold for some reason, all bets are off.

Ultimately, I see the final score as something like 31-24 Baltimore, and if Joe Flacco throws for 250-300 yards with one interception or less, I don’t think anything San Francisco does on offense will matter.

Lessons From “The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America”

I’m finally reading Tom Melville’s classic, The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America. My primary motivation is my natural curiosity, plus a need to be educated about cricket history. As I read, however, I’m finding important lessons in cricket’s 19th century demise that are instructive for those of us promoting the game in the 21st.

In the 1800s, as today, cricket had competition from other American sports, primarily baseball. Cricket entered this “Battle of the Pastimes” with a number of advantages, not the least of which was the fact that it had a hundred year history in America, whereas its challengers had only really emerged in the early decades of the century. Cricket also had formalized rules, established organizations and traditional rivalries. It even had the benefit of providing the United States’ first international competitions.

So, if cricket enjoyed such advantages, why, within just a few decades, was it so emphatically displaced by baseball as the national pastime? In the parlance of our game, cricket “put down a sitter” by seeking too hard to maintain the sport’s exclusivity and prestige, at a time when Americans were starting to look for a game that could be played by “everyman.”

A pitcher playing by baseball's 1864 rules.

Whereas cricket’s insistence on rigid adherence to its laws and recent competitive developments (such as overhand bowling) made it a difficult game for novices to enjoy, baseball’s flexible rules at the time (underhand pitching to promote balls being put in play, outs being given for catches on one bounce) encouraged new players to “give it a go.” Lesson: If you want universal adoption of your sport, make it easy for newbies to play and enjoy.

2011 Application: If we want novice Americans to adopt cricket, we must create forms of the game that allow them to play it (for fun and recreation) at little cost and with no training whatsoever.

How can we do this? Easy. Organizing adult cricket leagues with simplified rules, and modifications that encourage the newcomer, such as inexpensive equipment, soft balls and (gasp) underhand tossing, rather than bowling. Existing cricket fans will no doubt have to seed these early leagues, so that the “uncricketed” can see how much fun our game is to play. (By the way, this is the version of the game that USYCA delivers to American schools.)

Another element that hurt cricket in the 19th century was its almost total dependence on expatriate Englishmen and some of their insistence on the maintaining of class distinctions. These issues tended to put off most Americans, some of whom came to regard cricket as antithetical to American identity. Baseball, by comparison, looked far more democratic and class-blind. Lesson: To the extent that cricket organizations appear to be open and welcoming to the community at large, these organizations will attract the interest and support of that community.

2011 Application: If our sport is to grow in America, cricket clubs, leagues, associations and governing bodies have an obligation to create an open and welcoming environment. Public relations, effective communications and a community-friendly image are all necessary if cricket is to succeed in America.

So really, the question that faces us is the same one that faced the cricket establishment in 1848: “Do we want cricket to be “everyman’s” game, or the exclusive province of a select fraternity?” The way in which we choose to answer this question will ultimately determine which path we choose.

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.

What An Effective National Youth Organization Could Look LIke

I have, for some time, called for the creation of a national youth cricket organization, to be directed by a national youth cricket coordinator. I truly believe that without a clear hierarchal structure, implementing a unified vision for American youth cricket, even the most fervent of efforts will have limited impact, if not fizzle out altogether.

There are many possibilities for the form a national organization might take, and still time to come together behind a collective, yet singular, vision of how best to advance youth cricket. Please consider what is to follow as merely my offering to the conversation.

To assist in visualizing how I see this program functioning, I’ll start with what I believe will be a common scenario:

A member of a cricket club in the suburbs of Houston speaks to a member of the Houston Independent School District’s school board, who is receptive to the idea of teaching cricket in Houston elementary and middle schools. The immediate need is for cricket sets for these 218 schools, because the school district says that they haven’t budgeted for this expense. The wholesale cost of each set is $60, which creates a need of over $13,000 in cricket sets. The cricket club member approaches the East Texas Youth Cricket Association regarding this opportunity. The ETYCA emails its members and supporters, and is soon able to commit to the purchase of 100 sets; the West Texas Youth Cricket Association agrees to donate another 25. The ETYCA then contacts the United States Youth Cricket Association regarding the balance. The USYCA immediately works its network of member associations in the US, plus other supporters and patrons nationally and internationally, and within days has secured the funding to purchase the remaining sets. Thus, within weeks, cricket supporters across the nation (and perhaps even the world) have worked together to get cricket started in 218 schools that will now teach cricket to 140,000 children in Houston.

In this scenario, cricketers and cricket supporters across the United States are pooling their time, talent and resources in a unified effort to advance the game among young people in our country. This, of course, is the best possible, and most efficient use of our admittedly limited resources to achieve our ends. And it is also the only way in which we will succeed, because if we allow ourselves to continue as a fragmented collection of disjointed programs, we will never have the strength to overcome the not insubstantial obstacles before us. Together, however, as a single community of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands, we cannot fail.

I think it is also instructive to note that my scenario speaks to the introduction of cricket in elementary and middle schools. I believe that this is the appropriate place to target our efforts (while not necessarily excluding high schoolers), because younger children are more open to new experiences, they have not yet settled on what will be “their sport” (which often, in the parents’ drive to make their child great, excludes all others from consideration), and they are still years away from requiring the national infrastructure that we do not yet have for advanced skills training. As an example, lets say we recruit a 13 year-old to become a cricketer, and he falls in love with the sport. Within a year or two, he will realize that there is little hope for him to develop as a player, because local academies and camps, not to mention the opportunity to play consistently, are almost non-existent in the US. On the other hand, an 8 year-old will not be expecting these things, and if we are given five years to work our national program, by the time this child is a teenager, there will be many more opportunities for him to enhance his skills and move on to the next level.

The bottom line is that, as in any well-considered project, we must build from the ground up, allowing the infrastructure to flourish naturally around us as we go. A mistake often made is to attempt to build cricket from the top down, with no existing system to support the effort. We must not repeat past mistakes.

Something else I’d like to note is the need for the United States Youth Cricket Association, and the state associations, to operate independently of any individual or existing organization for the time being. My goal is to avoid the snares of petty politics, jealousies and infighting that would endanger our success. Far too often we have seen great ideas and good intentions derailed by these things. We are far too small a community, and there is far too much work to be done, to risk allowing our numbers to be divided by politics. We must do all we can to build bridges between individuals and organizations, and avoid this fatal trap. Whoever would enter our company must be willing to check his pride and his ambitions at the door.

No matter what the final form, we must soon establish this national hierarchy to guide and nurture youth cricket in the United States. Too many years have already elapsed without a coherent national policy, and too many young people have already been lost to cricket because we could not provide the infrastructure to support them.

A national discussion is finally underway, and this is a great step forward. However, we must also be careful that we not allow the ongoing conversation to become a reason for inaction. Let us reach a consensus, and then move with alacrity to establish the year 2010 as the year that American cricket was reborn.

BaylorIC Takes Off in the UK

When we were children, many of us played sport, and we spent much of our free time out of doors. Today, too many children exhaust their days in front of a television, computer screen or video game console, without ever leaving their homes. This dearth of physical activity can lead to an increase in childhood obesity and poor overall health.

Some of these children might play a sport and better their chances at a healthy lifestyle, but find themselves embarrassed by their lack of athleticism, and so shrink away from competitive environments. If, however, while they were still in primary school, they could be introduced to a sport where natural physical attributes are of secondary importance to patience, intelligence and learned skills, these at-risk children might yet be saved.

This is the mission of Ingram Jones, the director of Baylor International Champions, an organization based in High Wycombe that seeks to make a difference in the lives of children by providing sport and educational opportunities for young people through cricket. Baylor IC plans on visiting schools in the UK to establish cricket development programmes, while at the same time creating strong ties between schools and local cricket clubs. Primary school sessions are in the form of Kwik Cricket, while secondary schools will play hard ball, with advanced skills being taught.

Jones’ long association with cricket began as a player at age eleven, with district cricket for Clay Hall Cricket Club in Essex. In London, he also played in the West Indian World League and the Clive Lloyd Cup on the team of his father, who is from Trinidad. As he matured, Jones discovered that he had a natural knack for coaching, and soon found himself drawn to that aspect of the game. After running afoul of an umpire for coaching on the field, Jones decided to take the leap and give it his complete attention.

In early 2009, having coached tournament-winning teams at schools and clubs in both the UK and Australia, Jones decided that the time was right to launch a brand that would allow his coaching philosophy to flourish. From this decision came the birth of Baylor International Champions, which has since become his passion. At BaylorIC, players are encouraged to not stand around, to keep moving and to stay focused. Endurance, strength and stamina are stressed in intense physical training sessions. Players are grouped into squads that reflect their level of cricket proficiency, and better players are introduced to coaching, as they are encouraged to work with players of lesser ability.

As the BaylorIC programme expanded, an opportunity arose to collaborate with 4 Media Students from Oprington College to produce a DVD called “The Takeoff;’ the project was just recently completed. The film includes many on-screen interviews with BaylorIC players, who reveal their feelings about cricket and the BaylorIC experience. “The Takeoff” will debut on the Community Channel programme “Your Sport” on 12 April.

Recently, Jones has been engaged in talks with cricket proponents in America who are interested in exploring how his unique coaching programme might be transplanted to the States. The results have been promising so far.

“I’m really excited about what Ingram’s doing with BaylorIC,” said Jamie Harrison of the Maryland Youth Cricket Association. “His programme is exactly what we need to have in the US, and I’m optimistic that we can find a way to make that happen.”

For Ingram Jones and Baylor International Champions the sky is the limit, which is fitting, as “The Takeoff” uses a dove to symbolize the freedom that children experience when imposed restraints are removed and they are allowed to reach their potential. At BaylorIC, helping children reach their potential is at the heart of their mission, and it is their dedication to this mission that gives the children involved a chance to soar above the clouds.

For more information on the BaylorIC programme, contact Ingram Jones at: info@BaylorIC or visit their website at http://www.BaylorIC.com/.