Since 2013, the Sugar Land Youth Cricket Club has taught kids ages 7 and up the skills and training for cricket.
The organization did so consistently despite rarely knowing the site of an upcoming session, making it an uphill battle.
“Without a dedicated ground, we had no idea when we were going to practice next,” said assistant manager Ajay Bhora, whose son plays with SLYCC.
But such uncertainty is no more, as the SLYCC is among many organizations and community members that stand to benefit from the recent culmination of an initiative aimed to serve a culturally diverse county.
Earlier this month, Fort Bend County Judge KP George and Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken DeMerchant inaugurated Fort Bend County’s first public cricket field at the Four Corners Community Center in Sugar Land.
“Many members of our diverse community have approached my administration about recreational facilities that meet their needs,” said George, who is Indian-American. “Cricket is one of the most widely played sports in Fort Bend County. From starting this conversation last November, to seeing children play on it this week, this was a vision and now a fulfilled promise. I encourage all to use this field for many years to come.”
Barely a week later, the impact of access to the sport already has been felt among the community’s youth population. Sugar Land Youth Cricket Club has begun practicing and will begin playing league games next month.
“He’s much more enthusiastic about coming to practice here. He knows the importance of having something like this,” Praveen Gopinath said of his son Aarnav, who is in his fourth year with SLYCC. “It’s 100 degrees, but he’s always saying, ‘I’ve got to go play and run.’ ”
As the organization has expanded since its inception – from 25 kids in 2013 to 120 this year – SLYCC has by and large been able to provide many avenues for instruction, such as experienced coaches to ensure the kids have the proper training and equipment to safely play the game. However, until the Four Corners Park opened last week, SLYCC was forced to utilize baseball fields and basketball courts around the area to teach their craft to the next generation. Eventually, manager Malay Vyas said they needed more space. Before the opening at Four Corners Park, he said the next-closest cricket field was 45 minutes away in Katy, which he believes deterred some from pursuing the sport.
“It’s so incredibly important for the development of cricket to have a local space to practice,” Vyas said. “The development of kids’ sports is dependent on that.”
Since the park’s opening, about 60 more parents have inquired about joining the organization in just over a week.
“Parents are putting in the effort to get their kids here to practice, and we are not going to waste their time now that we have a dedicated ground,” Bhora said. “It’s not just about playing or hitting a shot. We can run it like an academy.”
Added Vyas: “Because this is a neighborhood park, people don’t have to drive. (This park) is just like batting cages in baseball. Every little league field has a batting cage next to it – that’s what we need. Cricket needs areas for the kids to practice batting and bowling.”
Growing a culture
In a diverse county such as Fort Bend, there is no shortage of cultures. And according to Vyas, cricket in America is where soccer was in the 1970s in the sense it’s usually played by people of a particular heritage — in this case, those of South Asian heritage.
DeMerchant worked with Fort Bend County’s Parks and Recreation Department to start the groundwork toward the initiative last year and said no property tax dollars were used to fund it. The workings of a new user agreement with the county and SLYCC is also underway to promote cricket in the county.
“The county has so much to give especially to its youth, who are our future, and this is a great start,” DeMerchant said.
As part of additional efforts to expand the sport, the SLYCC coaches have gone into Fort Bend ISD schools and demonstrated cricket as a sport and physical education activity, and most schools now have it listed as part of their curriculum. Vyas said sports like softball, baseball and cricket – and their heritages – do not have to stand against each other.
Through efforts such as the Four Corners Park implementation, the sport’s reach is expanding just like Fort Bend itself.
“We have a lot of families who have migrated here, especially from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other countries, and for people from those countries, cricket is a national pastime, also for most of the parents that are trying to pass the tradition down,” said Missouri City resident Jackson Justin, whose son Jason has played cricket for two years. “There are very few kids interested in this game, so I’m lucky that he’s interested.”