July 15, 2015
Everyone seems to be in agreement that if cricket in the United States is to even survive, much less thrive, it must grow beyond the narrow boundaries of its current demographic. We also talk about the need to bring girls into the game at an early age. Even so, almost no one has been able to accomplish this sought-after "breakthrough," leaving cricket here as an almost exclusively immigrant - and almost exclusively male - sport, with a mere 1,000 players in organized junior competition. (By way of comparison, there are over 1,000,000 American children enrolled in yoga, and nearly 5,000,000 playing volleyball.)
In Maryland, however, things are changing.
A few years ago, Sham Chotoo, who grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, had a radical idea. One that took a certain amount of self-confidence, and a lot of grit and determination. Chotoo believed that in order to get cricket to take hold, he needed to get involved at the elementary school level. So, he started visiting various elementary schools in his town of Bowie, Maryland and teaching the sport during physical education classes, with cricket sets donated by USYCA.
"I thought I need to reach out to get the kids (interested) when they were a little bit more focused," he told a local reporter. "I thought I would focus on the elementary school level because the kids haven't specialized in a sport yet. By middle school, they've selected what sport to go out for. At the elementary school level, the kids are eager to learn.
"I had a captive audience. They had no choice but to listen to me. What I found was that kids love the game; they reacted so positively. They were eager to learn, eager to play. I wanted them to want to continue, so I figured 'Why don't we just form a cricket league?' "
In its second season, the schools cricket league Sham started expanded by 50% to twelve teams comprised of 183 students from 19 elementary schools. Local parents and league players have been recruited as part-time coaches. Here's how the league works:
First, there are two weeks of practice, starting in early March. Then, each team plays 4 first-round matches, utilizing whatever hard playing surface is available, such as an asphalt court. At the end of the first round, teams were ranked according to wins, losses and net run rate.
The top six teams then play in the Gold Division playoffs, while the other six compete in the Silver Division playoffs. This season wrapped up on May 27.
As you can tell by looking at the photos below, cricket is now exploding in these areas, and is rapidly spreading to children whose parents are not from cricket-playing nations. This is the outcome that we all know is necessary if America is to become a truly cricket-playing nation.
Sham is, of course, looking to expand the league again in 2016, but this time into adjacent Maryland counties. Suffice to say, if every youth cricket program in the USA were to replicate what Sham Chotoo is doing in Maryland, within five to ten years there would be a dramatic change in the fortunes of the game in this country.
It may seem safer to restrict energies to the children of immigrants, and it probably feels good telling friends that you are personally developing the next cricket superstar, but this view is short-sighted.
If our game fails to break out into the general population, that bowling phenom will have no league in which to play regular matches, and will soon drift away. If we are unable to convince 95% of the population that cricket is worth their time, money and sponsorships will always be in short supply, depriving us of facilities and resources. If we cannot become cricket missionaries, then the game is ultimately doomed here.
So, youth cricket coaches of America, here is your personal challenge:
Will you step out of your comfort zone and change the future of the game in the USA? Or will you just keep doing what you've always done, because it's more rewarding to you personally?