When Jamie Harrison took his class on a field trip in 2008 to explore Civil War sites in Richmond, Virginia, he left with a new love of a relatively unknown sport to Americans: cricket.
As they toured the areas, the former Cardinal Gibbons U.S. History teacher and his class came upon a living historian who was demonstrating the sport as an artifact of America’s history, as it was previously the country’s national sport. When asked if they wanted to participate, Harrison and his class did, and instantly, a passion for the game was formed.
Harrison’s students asked him to become moderator for a school cricket club. He agreed and eventually the club turned into an intramural school team and later, a travel team that successfully played against other groups in the D.C. area.
When Cardinal Gibbons closed, Harrison was faced with a dilemma: how could he continue to introduce children to this often overlooked sport that he, and many of the kids he coached, fell in love with? His solution was to create the Maryland Youth Cricket Association (MYCA), an organization that has since introduced cricket to 500 Maryland schools.
A few years later, Harrison — with the help of the Linthicum Ferndale Youth Athletic Association (LFYAA) — brought the sport to local youth.
Since 2014, LFYAA has offered cricket for girls and boys ages 6 to 12. Now, just a few months away from the start of the spring season, the organization announced it will drop its registration price from $125 to $50 a player, to make learning about and playing the sport accessible to more children in the North County area.
“Every winter, I spend about a dozen days at north county elementary schools teaching cricket to the students in the physical education classes,” said Harrison, who is the LFYAA cricket commissioner. “In the process, I speak to the PE teachers and many of them have mentioned the limited recreation opportunities for some students, and how costs play a big role in that. We’ve decided to do something about that.”
LFYAA will create the first ever little league-style local cricket league in the country, says Harrison, in which all players in the league will form into separate teams and then play against each other. This six-a-side intramural league will play on weeknights and weekends at Overlook Elementary School, which is home to Anne Arundel County’s only cricket pitch — the central strip of a cricket playing field — courtesy of the MYCA.
The hour-long games will feature teams of six, instead of the traditional eleven, creating opportunities for each child to have maximum involvement.
Elizabeth Hontz first became interested in enrolling her children into the sport after she attended one of the demonstrations the MYCA held at an elementary school. In March of 2016, Hontz enrolled her children, Everett and Liam, who hadn’t yet played a team sport.
“As with any team sport, the kids learn about the importance of practicing before a game and then applying what they have learned during a game,” Hontz said. “They get the benefit of exercise, playing with friends and learning an international sport.”
Hontz, who is the treasurer for LFYAA’s cricket league, also enjoys the time her family spends together because of the sport.
“Watching our kids play cricket has become a highlight of our evenings and weekends in the spring,” she said. “They have both become good bowlers, batsmen and fielders.
Aisha Boehm, who serves as the league’s scorekeeper, has two sons — ages 10 and 12 — who started playing cricket for LFYAA in March 2018. Originally from Kazakhstan, Boehm grew up participating in a variety of sports and activities, all of which were free. She wanted to provide the same experience for her family in the states, but found that after paying for her sons’ music and swimming lessons, there wasn’t much room left in the budget for enrollment into a team sport.
Upon talking to friends who had children enrolled in the LFYAA cricket program, Boehm decided the experience and affordability of the program was what the family was looking for. Along with the physical aspect of the sport, Boehm likes the skills the sport instills.
“I think playing a team sport teaches a lot of good qualities like working hard as a team and most importantly humility, confidence and perseverance,” she said.
She also appreciates the different people and cultures cricket exposes her sons to.
“I am an international parent and I get to meet a lot of parents from many countries who grew up playing cricket as children,” she said. “It's so nice to see them enjoying their children playing cricket. It's important for me as a parent to teach my kids to accept the diversity in everything.”
LFYAA offers outdoor spring and indoor fall sessions. Prior knowledge or experience of cricket isn’t required and children of all athletic abilities are invited to join.
“Our cricket program is designed for beginners, for children who maybe just want to give it a try,” Harrison said. “There's no big pressure for the child to become a star. For us, the primary goal is to make them cricket fans first, and we do that by keeping it fun.”
Harrison also says the sport often attracts children who aren’t necessarily “jocks,” and who are perhaps more reflexive and cerebral.
“Cricket is a sport that teaches patience and discipline while rewarding creativity and imagination,” he said. “It's like the bat and ball skills of baseball, mixed with the mental aspects of golf.”