Ram Varadarajan wrote in an email dated March 30, 2010: “It has been
my belief that USA cricket can benefit from a national dialog with
inclusive participation and active and open communication.” That
belief was shared by roughly 60 participants who dialled into the first
call on Monday, April 26, 2010. The topic was - "A national youth program: Coordination among youth academies and youth programs across the country." The callers included leaders of nearly all cricket academies and coordinators of youth cricket programs.
his introductory remarks, Mr. Varadarajan said that, "Youth cricket
(in USA) is mainly led by individuals and is a grassroots effort. There
is no real coordination at the national level." He said that
while academies and other league initiatives were doing a great job,
there is a need to "knit these (efforts) together into a national
plan." "USACA has a big role to play," he added.
Pic (Right): Ram Varadarajan began the first in a series of monthly calls for sharing ideas that benefit USA Cricket
Calling it an open forum, Mr. Varadarajan said, "we are just
starting a dialog, out of this may emerge a plan." He urged
the participants to look forward instead of backward: "no abuse, no
screaming, be civil and constructive, let us make this a progressive
call." He also asked that participants adhere to strict time limits
adding that there will be more calls, including at least one more call
on youth cricket.
The response to the national dialog was positive. In an email to
DreamCricket.com, one participant wrote: "I was worried that either
very few would call in, or that many would call in, [and] each with a
different perspective and different solutions, so that there would be
little agreed upon and little to take away. What I heard instead was
much general agreement, and many of the same experiences."
Another caller told DreamCricket.com he hoped that the call would
result in a national federation of youth initiatives and a league for
youth cricket that plays year round in various divisions, instead of
meeting once a year for a regional or national tournament. "Cricket
does not have to look very far for inspiration. Soccer has two
national youth organizations both of which are affiliated to the
US Soccer Federation. Those youth associations have their own bylaws,
national rules and regulations, and policies."
The call featured five speeches followed by a discussion. Speaking
first, Jamie Harrison, President of Maryland Youth Cricket Association,
told the participants: "You do great work on behalf of cricket in the
United States, and I want to say how much I admire your hard work,
innovation and dedication. Many of you have labored in obscurity for
years, seeking only to do right for those you coached."
Speaking about the Maryland Youth Cricket Association and the
national United States Youth Cricket Association, which is in formative
stages, Mr. Harrison said, "Our mission is to introduce
elementary-school age children to cricket by donating cricket sets and
instruction to schools, summer camps and youth groups." According to
Mr. Harrison, the US Youth Cricket Association would produce a huge
feeder system for upper-level schools, academies and cricket camps.
A former teacher and coach at Cardinal Gibbons, Mr. Harrison said,
"Instructors are always on the lookout for new games to break the
monotony of class, and schools love it when things are donated for
free. Also, cricket is the perfect game for gym classes and once they
are made aware of the benefits that cricket holds for themselves and
their students, many educators will welcome the game with open arms.
As a matter of fact, even now we have schools contacting us to ask that
we start them on cricket."
Following Mr. Harrison's speech, Rajesh Suthar of NCCA (Bay
Area) spoke about that league's efforts in promoting cricket. He said
that there were 60 kids in the league's program between the ages of 6
and 19. But he said that there were not enough teams within the
league - which made match-play a challenge. He hoped that the youth
programs in his region could put their differences behind and
collaborate to provide kids with a regional minor league.
Venu Palaparthi said that the two year old DreamCricket Academy
conducts summer camps and specialized coaching in New Jersey. Mr.
Palaparthi indicated that the summer camps in 2008 and 2009 were well
attended and gradually about 30 of the kids have become year-round
cricketers playing at the Academy's indoor facility and when
opportunities arose, on a ground. Not having a dedicated ground in the
entire state of New Jersey for youth cricket was the biggest obstacle,
one that the Academy is looking to overcome during 2010 with support
from the cricket community. The Academy has conducted camps across the
entire spectrum of junior cricket - from five-year olds at the Kiddie
Academy to students with special needs - such as a camp conducted for
the NJ School for the Deaf. And it plans to conduct camps in more
cities in the future.
Ajay Athavale of California Cricket Academy (Bay Area), the most
successful cricket academy in the country by any metric, said that his
Academy's goal was to spread cricket. He spoke about the Academy's
successful efforts in conducting national level age-group tournaments.
This year, the Academy was launching the U-17 age category in the
tournament which is planned for June 24-27. Speaking of his Academy's
tour program, he said not only had CCA invited outstation teams, most
recently a team from CAUSA in Atlanta, it traveled outside its region
including overseas tours. He then spoke of the CCA tours to England
and India which had given the CCA and some non-CCA boys invaluable
turf-wicket experience. He said that the Academy is open to coaching
all kids in the areas of skills training and playing in a variety of
Florida Cricket Academy's Wayne Ramnarine said that several well
known junior cricketers such as Steven Taylor and Ricky Nayyar
had attended his Academy. He said that Ramnaresh Sarwan recently
visited the Academy and coached the boys. The Academy, which has nets
at the Ansin Park and plays matches at Brian Piccolo, has access to
some of the best facilities in the country for youth cricket. He said
that his Academy's biggest wish was to see greater funding from
corporate sponsors and USACA. Calling for a national youth coordinator
and national agenda, he said that his region's youth coordinator had
not visited his youth program.
Shyam Mayasandra spoke on behalf of Michigan Cricket Academy in
Detroit, Mr. Mayasandra said that his academy was begun by himself,
Vasant Krishnaswamy and Mike Makin in 2004. The academy has had year
round activities including winter activities in an indoor arena. He
said although 100 kids were on the roster, they did not have the
necessary strength to have a youth league. To address that, they
organized tournaments at U-15 and U-19 levels which were well
represented. He spoke of Detroit's beautiful grounds and also
proximity to Toronto's more advanced youth cricket scene as
advantages. Mr. Mayasandra hoped for greater cooperation between the
regions and called for an end to the island mentality. He hoped that
Detroit would one day has something like the Brijesh Patel Academy,
which he said had 40 nets in a single ground. He also hoped that USACA
would organize a week-long camp at the national level for talented
junior cricketers to supplement the national level tournaments.
In the discussion phase of the call, the callers unanimously agreed
on the need for a national database for youth cricket, the backbone for
which DreamCricket offered to provide. Mr. Varadarajan said
that submitting data should be voluntary so that there are no privacy
concerns. There was also general agreement on the need for greater
coordination, which was the main theme of the call.
Former New York Youth coordinator Clifford Hinds spoke about the
need for uniform curriculums among the programs in the country and
urged USACA to have a voting member on USACA board who watches out for
youth at all times. New Jersey parent Rahul Sharma said that
recreational programs were the way to cultivate interest in cricket.
He said that township and municipal administrators should be approched
for inclusion of cricket in their recreational programs.
Mike Thomas spoke of youth cricket in Philadelphia area and much
later, in response to a question by Shahid Ahmed, he also touched on
cricket at Haverford and surrounding colleges. In his view, most
people in his area espoused the idea of cricket and he saw no reason
why cricket could not grow rapidly. Krishna from Chicago wanted to
know more about fundraising experiences of other callers. Venu
Palaparthi responded with his experience saying it boiled down
to marketing and packaging. Mr. Palaparthi noted that having a
non-profit status offers a huge advantage for raising funds due to the
inherent tax benefits to the donors.
Speaking about his
experience with raising money for the national tournaments in
California, Mr. Varadarajan said that youth cricket tugs at the heart
strings of community and saw no reason why community oriented
businesses could not be persuaded to donate money.
Jay Shah of Dallas spoke about the need for product cricket! By
that he meant that if the sport was marketed better, more people would
play the sport. This was in response to an emailed question by Richard
asking regarding a path to a professional career. Mr. Palaparthi spoke
briefly about ManasSahu, the president of the Massachusetts State Cricket League, who had initiated a 'One Club, One School' program wherein each club in the league would be encouraged to adopt a school. In response, one caller suggested that leagues should be handed USACA funds based on their involvement with youth cricket.
Makin of MCA said that roughly 4 million kids played soccer and not
everyone really aspired to play professional soccer. And those that
did dreamt of playing for Real Madrid. His point was that there were
enough good reasons to play cricket that not having a professional
career path was not a limitation.
Mr. Varadarajan ended the call with a quick note of thanks and promised another call on youth cricket in May.
Speaking to DreamCricket.com, Jamie Harrison said, "In the
next call, I would like us to develop further the concept of a
nationalized youth cricket organization. Even if we don't get to create
the organization, I believe that if we have broad agreement on what it
should look like and how it should function, our suggestions will be
incorporated into whatever plan eventually emerges. Being able to put
forth a specific plan will also make it easier to approach USACA, as
opposed to voicing multiple, varied ideas that may be in opposition to
each other. It also lets USACA know that they will have eager partners
awaiting them when they are ready to move forward in the area of a
nationalized youth cricket agenda."