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By Jamie Harrison
- Youth cricket in the United States is growing at an unprecedented rate as hundreds of thousands of children are exposed to the game for the first time.
- Youth cricket in the United States is desperately in need of assistance, without which it will cease to expand much beyond its existing base and will eventually disappear altogether.
These are two seemingly contradictory statements, and yet, they are both true. Youth cricket has reached a moment of tremendous opportunity – and also mortal danger, largely because of timing, immigration and demographics.
The 1970 United States census recorded 51,000 American residents that had been born in India. By 2006, this number had exploded to over 1.5 million, making Indian-born immigrants the fourth largest group in the country, after those from Mexico, the Philippines and China. Much of this movement has been in the last decade, with more than a third arriving after 2000.
Pic (right): Thanks to the efforts of USYCA, schools are getting exposed to cricket at an unprecendented rate. On April 15th, the Cincinnati Cricket Club, an USYCA affiliate, conducted a cricket clinic at the Edwin D. Smith Elementary School in Dayton, OH.
It is also important to note that most of the new arrivals were in the age group when one typically has children, and over 25% gained employment in the IT industry (compared to less than 3% of overall foreign-born residents).
The impact of this wave of South Asian immigration can be seen in the revival of their favorite pastime in this country. They drive the tiny cricket retail industry, they create the market for cricket to be broadcast online and they prompted ESPN to sign a contract with the Star Sports. Their children are also the reason that cricket academies exist in the United States.
For much of the last decade, a few dozen noble volunteers and lonely visionaries have created and sustained a collection of cricket academies and training centers in America. These organizations are scattered across the nation, and yet at the same time are also largely concentrated in a handful of locations.
The places in which these enterprises have survived are instructive. They are typically located near communities that boast large numbers of families with roots in the Indian subcontinent.
This should not be particularly surprising, as children are far more likely to accept coaching in sports with which they are familiar, or at least with which their families are familiar. In America, this filters out 95% of the population before the academy places its first advertisement, and is frankly a tough business model under which to operate. This also explains why the typical cricket academy in the United States counts its participants in the dozens, rather than the hundreds.
In spite of these challenges, a number of stalwarts have not only survived, but have thrived, often with little or no outside support. In New York, organizations like the New York Youth Cricket Academy and New York Tristate Cricket Academy are all able to draw from the metropolitan area’s growing Asian and West Indian populations, and have built a very solid foundation.
On the West Coast, groups such as the California Cricket Academy, the Bay Area Cricket Alliance and the Northern California Cricket Association carry much of the weight.
In between the oceans, the Florida Cricket Academy will send two teams overseas in 2011, the Michigan Cricket Academy prepares junior squads for local and national tournaments and Cricket Academy USA hosts cricket camps, teams and leagues.
In addition, sprinkled across the map are dozens of other smaller efforts, often run as an extension of a local cricket club or league. Due to a shortage of children and resources, it’s rare for these more modest operations to do much more than just practice with their charges or run small leagues.
Another sad truth about the present state of affairs is that without large numbers of children emerging into adulthood to play top-quality cricket, there’s little hope for the youth of today to play the game seriously for long. If he or she is good enough there might be a spot on the regional or national team, if they can afford to pay for their own training, get time off from work and raise the money raised to travel.
Unlike top cricketing nations around the world, the young American cricketer who hopes to play professionally has little to which to look forward.
This is why many children of cricket-playing fathers turn their backs on the game, or simply drift away in their teen years. The tragedy is that without the large numbers needed to create and support a cricket infrastructure in this country, we even lose the children we thought were ours alone. Many of them never even consider cricket to begin with, electing to play baseball, soccer or some other sport that can dangle a more promising future in front of them.
And herein lies the mortal threat to youth cricket.
It is to be expected that those who played cricket in their youth will want to play the game here, and this is borne out in the growing adult leagues around the nation. When these new Americans have children, it may also be expected that they will raise their children to have at least a passing interest in cricket, and this is borne out in the faces of those who attend our academies, camps and clinics.
The frightening reality we must face is that the incredibly large numbers of immigrants from cricket-playing nations cannot continue forever (especially when it is so intertwined with the fortunes of one industry), and therefore cannot be depended upon as a permanent stream of cricket followers and players. If the children of these “first-generation” families are allowed to be lost to cricket, they will not be easy to replace in the short term, and perhaps impossible in the long term.
It is a foolish to believe that there is a way to preserve cricket in America without quickly making it an American sport. We need the participation, attention, and yes, the cash flow, of a sizeable percentage of the population to maintain cricket as a viable sport in this country (certainly far larger than 5%). If cricket does not quickly (5-10 years) become a popular option for American children, if this window of opportunity is inadequate to break cricket out of its niche status – then the game is up.
But there’s hope – and opportunity.
If all of these cricket-coaching organizations have one thing in common, it’s that almost all of the participants in these programs came to them with some knowledge about cricket. It would be unnatural otherwise. To expect a parent to pay for coaching in a sport with which their children were unfamiliar would be unrealistic.
That’s why the task of introducing children to cricket for the first time must necessarily be shifted elsewhere, which is where the United States Youth Cricket Association (USYCA) comes in.
Pic (Right): On April 8th, Washington Warriors CC, a USYCA affiliate, presents a free cricket kit to Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School, both in Reston, VA.
USYCA brings cricket where it has not been in America for over a hundred years – the general public. By donating cricket sets to cash-strapped schools, and usually arranging for a local cricket enthusiast to deliver training, children across America are being exposed to the game, and are embracing it.
By the time schools reopen this August, over 750 US schools will have received USYCA American Cricket Champ sets, raising the number of students impacted to over 500,000. These are the kinds of numbers youth academies need to have if they are going to change the future of cricket in America.
To imagine the impact of bringing cricket to the broader US population, imagine a factory production line where 95% of the raw materials were lost before they ever got to the factory floor. Rather than operating at full capacity, the factory would be producing only at 5% efficiency – a disaster that would soon drive most companies out of business.
But let’s say that this particular factory adapted and learned to get by (barely) on the 5%, until one day the flaw in the delivery system was corrected, and suddenly the percentage of raw materials began to rise, first to 10%, then 25% and then 50% and beyond.
This factory would now find itself in the enviable position of having honed its craft throughout many lean years only to find itself newly blessed with resources aplenty. The factory would need to staff up to handle the new workload, and its operators would find themselves talking about growth and expansion, rather than cutbacks and sacrifice. Both the quality and quantity of the factory’s products would soar, as would its customers’ satisfaction.
This, then, is the tremendous opportunity for youth cricket in America.
If the USYCA Schools Program can be adequately supported, the impact will soon be felt at every academy, camp and training facility in the country. Clinics that struggled to find 50 children will be forced to add additional dates to their calendars to handle the demand. Academy operators will run their businesses full time. Cricketers who had always wanted to go into coaching would find themselves being courted and offered top dollar – to do the thing they love.
Pic (Right): Do you want to get involved with youth cricket? The moment of opportunity is now! Click here to join the USYCA movement.
If, on the other hand, we refuse to invest in the provision of “raw materials,” if we just keep hoping that “someone else will do it,” progress will be slowed or perhaps even thwarted altogether.
In the past decade, the stars have aligned for cricket in America. But this window of opportunity, which seems so wide open now, cannot remain so forever.
We have but this brief moment in time to make America a cricketing nation. If we delay, if we assume that others will take up the slack for us, all will soon be lost and cricket in the United States will slide back to its previous resting place, as just another footnote in American sports history.
The future of cricket in the United States is being written today. If you’re interested in being one of its authors, get involved now, before the moment is lost forever.
[The author is the Founder and President of USYCA. All pictures appear here courtesy of USYCA.]