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Maryland Youth Cricket Championship makes history in U.S.

On the cricket field at the South Germantown Recreational Park on Sunday afternoon, Jamie Harrison saw his dream come true.

Dozens of parents and fans gathered to watch his plan of three years finally come to fruition: two teams battle for the Maryland Youth Cricket Championship, the first such event in United States history.

The event saw the Germantown Kids Cricket Club win the state title over Cockeysville Kids Cricket, 25-23, after a one-month, four-team tournament.

"This is something happening in front of me that I envisioned and imagined and thought that could happen," said Harrison, the founder and president of the United States Youth Cricket Association. "It's proof of concept. I've imagined this day in my head for three years. And now I'm watching it, with my eyes, happen. I feel crazy that this is actually going on."

Five years ago, Harrison had no connection to cricket at all. He was a Cardinal Gibbons history teacher, and when he took his class to a Civil War site, a cricket demonstration was being held. He and his students played that day for an hour-and-a-half, and he fell in love. The students did, too, and they created a cricket club at the school.

Harrison moderated the club until the school's closure in 2010. At that point, he was out of a job. But he didn't necessarily want to give up his interest in the sport.

He realized cricket was not popular in the United States, but that when given the chance to play, kids would be interested. And when he found out others had tried to expand youth cricket in the country, he teamed up with Edward Fox from Kansas and Rakesh Kallem from Connecticut to create the USYCA in April 2010.

The first goal, Harrison said, was to give cricket kits to as many school districts as possible. First it was 10 kits. Then it was 100. To date, the USYCA has distributed more than 1,500 kits to schools across the country.

From there, Harrison's next step was to then approach the community clubs where kits were distributed to local schools, to see if enough interest had been generated to start a league.

"Everywhere we went, kids loved cricket," Harrison said. "Where we have found receptiveness, we have started cricket programs. The idea is to find volunteers all over the country who are willing to replicate what we started in Maryland."

At the same time Harrison was expanding interest, Anurag Babbar of Germantown wanted his kids to play the sport he grew up with, but had trouble finding any youth cricket leagues in the Washington metro area. In the summer of 2011, he and other local parents found the GKCC, which initially had only five kids.

By the end of spring 2012, the club had ballooned to 60 members. When Babbar stumbled upon Harrison's USYCA website, he got in touch with the former history teacher to share his story, and his club joined the organization.

The two both agreed that they wanted to do something more for the kids than just intramural leagues, and they decided the best way to do that was a state-level tournament.

"We just kind of started talking about it, and the more and more we did, the idea became more of a possibility," Babbar said. "This was a way for kids to get recognition, and that's ultimately what you want."

When they gathered three additional teams, Cockeysville, Lutherville-Timonium and Bowie (all had been started by Harrison and his USYCA efforts), a state-level tournament was possible.

Play began June 16 and culminated on Sunday, with Maryland's Deputy Secretary of State, Dr. Rajan Natarajan, throwing the championship coin toss and the match being officiated by Washington Cricket League referees.

The experience was something that Dulaney sophomore Alex Dua, Cockeysville's Most Valuable Player, said he was proud to be a part of, even though he was on the losing team.

"This team is with all my friends, so when we lose like this, we all feel it," he said. "But it's the first game in America to have gone like this. I'm proud to be a part of it."

From here, Harrison hopes to show the success of the Maryland tournament to other states, to perhaps start youth championships elsewhere.

He still has a long way to go, but Sunday's result was what Harrison had hoped for all along.

"This is a start. This is the beginning and the embryonic start of youth cricket in the United States," Harrison said. "It's like a marathon and I got across the line, but now I'm bent over, looking ahead and seeing another 100 marathons ahead of me.

"I'm going to celebrate this moment tonight and realize the fact that we were able to make this happen, but tomorrow morning, it's back to work to make youth cricket in the United States better."

jlittman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JordanLittman

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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