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.

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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.

“PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison”: A Total Farce

This weekend I’ve been attending Abbey Road on the River, a mega-Beatle fest at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort. My wife and I have had a great time; I got to meet Pete Best, the Beatles original drummer, and Ron Campbell, who did the animation for both the Beatles animated series and Yellow Submarine. The tribute bands have been a mix of the good, the bad and the hysterical, but that’s OK, I’m used to bad Beatles imitators (and honestly, my standards are probably unrealistic).

A truly surreal experience, however, was being exposed to the “East Coast Premier” of the DVD PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison, a 90 minute crock of horse manure, posing as a documentary. We saw it in a room with about 50 people; a steady stream left throughout, and to the credit of those who remained, there was audible laughter at times.

The premise of the film is that George Harrison, after having survived a knife attack in 1999, recorded an audiotape that reveals, in a very detailed narrative, that Paul McCartney really was killed and replaced by a double in 1966, and that this historic audiotape was then mailed to an obscure company named Highway 61 Entertainment, to which Harrison had no previous connection whatsoever. The film offers the voice as George Harrison without any collaborating evidence, and the audio quality, despite it supposedly being from an 11 year-old audiotape, is as clear as if it had been recorded in a studio yesterday. Also, instead of having the amateur, stream of consciousness form that you might expect from a sickbed confession, what we get is a polished, chronological account of a very convoluted, and not very believable, conspiracy to simultaneously cover up (while at the same time revealing), the truth of McCartney’s death.

Since Harrison is supposedly the person relating the series of events (which include the English Secret Service, over a 35 year period, repeatedly threatening to kill the surviving Beatles if they did not maintain the fraud), you would expect that “common knowledge” facts from the history of the band would be accurate – and you would be mistaken.

This George Harrison does not know that: both Rubber Soul and Revolver were released prior to November of 1966; that the Beatles never actually recorded the Capitol release Yesterday and Today, and that the “Butcher Block Cover” for the album was actually released into circulation, and that in any event, it too was released prior to November of 1966. This George doesn’t know that John had divorced Cynthia and married Yoko, and that Paul had married Linda Eastman, months before Abbey Road was released. This George also believes that the Let It Be sessions occurred after the Abbey Road sessions.

There are other logic-defying assertions from this Harrison, such as that a witness to the fatal crash in 1966, after threatening to reveal the truth in 1993, is maimed and reconstructed as – get ready for it – Heather Mills! No matter that Mills was born after November of 1966 (and remember she successfully carried a child to term in 2003, 38 years after supposedly witnessing the crash). The film is full of “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments, which is where the Beatles experts in the audience found the most humor.

One thing I found disturbing was the venom that this George directed at John, the “new” Paul and poor Ringo. The George Harrison narrating this movie is not a very pleasant person, and he makes the other Beatles out to be either deranged or stupid. He also doesn’t sound much like the real George Harrison, and he sometimes lays on the Scouse so thick that it sounds more like parody than mimicry.

What is clear after having sat through this cinematic fiasco is that the director, Joel Gilbert, clearly only has a superficial knowledge of his subject matter, which is curious, since he went to such lengths (and expense, I imagine) to create a movie that claims “insider” access to the individuals and events depicted. It seems to me that if he had allowed even a cursory proofreading of the script by a real Beatles fan, many of the silly errors could have been corrected, which which have made the film, if not plausible, at least not so easily exposed as the fraud it is. His failure to do so reveals Gilbert to be a sloppy movie-maker, who has apparently wasted a lot of someone’s money, and quite possible destroyed whatever standing he may have had in his industry.

In short, PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison, is a poorly conceived and executed attempt to exploit Beatles fans that will fail because the director couldn’t be bothered to do his homework. As a result, few true fans of the Fab Four will find his work credible, and I suspect that it will soon be relegated to the ash heap of hysterically bad movies. I suppose for this I should actually be grateful.


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/.

Five Ways To Make Cricket Attractive To Americans

(This article originally appeared in Dreamcricket.com)

Cricket, as a game, has everything required to make it attractive to Americans, especially now that the Twenty20 format has been adopted. All arguments made to the contrary are based on ignorance or, in some cases, a misplaced parochialism. How do I know this? I have witnessed it firsthand in my association with the Cardinal Gibbons cricketers, who were smitten by the sport from they instant they played it. My experiences with those students, when juxtaposed with the rest of non-cricketing America, also provided a roadmap to making cricket more than just a niche sport.

1. Get Kids Playing Cricket.

This, I believe, is the key element in any discussion about growing cricket in America. Typically, adults are resistant to adopting new sports; the sports one enjoyed as a child are almost always the sports one follows as an adult. This is why time and treasure invested in an attempt to introduce American adults to cricket are likely to be time and treasure wasted. Yes, there are rare exceptions, such as myself, but we represent the statistical outliers, and should not be used as examples to be emulated.

The true blueprint for success can be seen in the American soccer market, which is, itself, still developing. For decades, soccer was a sport played only by adult immigrants and ignored by everyone else in the United States. It was only when soccer began to be played in schools and recreation leagues that it moved into the American mainstream. Why? Because parents follow their children. If Billy wants to play soccer, Mom or Dad must take him to practices and games, where they will learn the sport by watching, and will develop a passion by cheering for their child’s team. (I have been through this process with my daughter, Sarah.)

As Billy learns the sport, he will become interested in its teams and players, and he will want to own things that reflect his newfound interest. This will require that Mom or Dad join him on this voyage of discovery, as they will be the ones responsible for acquiring the correct paraphernalia (apparel, posters, bedding, memorabilia, etc.). Billy will also wish to attend professional or college games, which will require an adult escort, and the escorting adult will, of course, cheer loudly for Billy’s player and team, which continues the indoctrination process.

So how do we make Billy a cricketer? Billy probably won’t choose to play a game he’s never heard of, or join a league where he has no friends. This is why it’s critical that we start by introducing him to the sport at school, where it can be taught as a part of his curriculum, and he and his friends can learn it together. (Cricket is a perfect sport for physical education classes, but I’ll leave that for another time.) My experience has been that often this is all that will be required to spark a passion for cricket. Once Billy and his friends begin to enjoy cricket at school, they’ll want to play at home, and it’ll be up to us to make sure they have the opportunity.

This brings us to the major hurdle we face in this regard: Right now, there is no coordinated national effort to introduce cricket at the elementary or middle school levels in the United States. As a matter of fact, I’ve never even heard of an organized local effort. This vacuum of leadership in the area of youth cricket creates an obstacle that will frustrate all of our desires to promote cricket, if it is not addressed. This is why USACA, as the sport’s officially sanctioned governing body, must appoint a board-level National Youth Cricket Coordinator without delay. This individual will be responsible for articulating USACA’s vision for youth sports, and developing local leaders, sponsors and programs that will effectively implement that vision. Until this is done, our hopes for youth cricket will founder and drift as a series of disconnected, directionless dreams.

Until we see children playing cricket at American beaches, in American parks and in American gym classes, little of lasting substance can be accomplished.

2. Cricket Equipment and Sets Must Be Readily Available For Purchase In Stores

Even if, in the beginning, it’s only toy cricket sets on the shelves at Walmart, having something to give Billy for his 8th birthday that will foster his love for the game is critical. Soon after, we’ll need to have real equipment on the shelves at places like Modell’s & Sports Authority. Right now, there are precious few places in America where cricket gear of any kind sits on a store shelf, and while dedicated cricketers may be willing to order online, those that are merely curious about the game (our target market) must have somewhere convenient to go to satisfy that curiosity.  Also, if we want to see children playing cricket, we need to make it easy for their parents to acquire their equipment. That is not the case today.

To change this, a major push will have to be made both by the manufacturers of cricket products and by the game’s American supporters. Retailers will want to know that SKUs can be obtained easily, at a cost that will enable them to make a profit. They will also need to know that a market exists for these products. Someone at a national level will have to coordinate this joint effort if we want to see immediate results.

3. We Need To Have More Places To Play

From my experience in the Baltimore/Washington area, I can tell you that there simply aren’t enough pitches for the teams that exist already, and there are no indoor facilities closer than New Jersey. This is unacceptable if we wish to develop the game. Players need facilities at which to practice (especially in the offseason), and teams need places to play. Changing this will require both public and private funding, and the patience to wait for the market to grow to the point of full usage of the facilities.

4. Cricket Highlights Need To Be Seen On Television

One impediment to the adoption of cricket in the United States is that most Americans have never seen it played. As a result, they reject it as alien, and assume it to be unwatchable. Regular highlight clips, played on networks that are available as part of the basic cable package, are important in both introducing the sport and dispelling the stereotypes. It may seem strange, but psychologically, as the sports fan sees cricket alongside other “accepted” sports, it will seem more normal for him to have an interest in it, and his mind will be opened. (I’ve actually seen IPL highlights on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top Ten before, but there needs to be more than that, and it needs to be more than just the IPL.)

5. T20/IPL-style Leagues Must Be Used To Promote The Game

All of the buzz seems to indicate that we are very close to seeing an American professional T20 league established. If this becomes a reality, it presents a wonderful opportunity for the teams, players and coaches to get out into their local communities and promote the game. This can be accomplished through youth clinics, demonstration games, ticket donations and so forth. It would truly be a lost opportunity if the league came and went without ever leaving the cricket grounds. The individuals involved have a duty to be goodwill ambassadors for the sport, and it is my hope that they won’t fumble this golden chance.

Our success will eventually be measured not by the number of trophies won, but by the number of children playing our sport.

As you can see, when I think about growing cricket in America, my focus is squarely on developing the youth market. If we fail to do this properly, no advances made anywhere else will make a difference, including winning international matches. On the other hand, soccer has expanded vastly in the United States, despite the fact that the American men’s national team has never gotten within sniffing distance of a World Cup. This points out the fact that creating and maintaining a fan base is not dependent on world-class victories as much as it is dependent upon the adoption of the game by kids.

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.