Trading Dingers for ‘6’s’: Sport of Cricket growing in Maryland

Players from across the state to take part in the first-ever “Cricket Day” at Camden Yards

BALTIMORE, MD — Though it’s popularity on the international stage is much larger than in the United States, the game of cricket has found a home here in Maryland. Currently, there are more than 500 children playing organized organized cricket in Maryland – one of the largest percentages in the United States. That’s according to Jamie Harrison, Chairman of the Maryland Youth Cricket Association (MYCA)

“We are the nation’s leader in youth cricket participation, and it’s not even a contest,” said Harrison, who has been working to build the sport in the state since the late 2000s. When he began working to organize the MYCA in 2010, Harrison says there were no organized youth cricket leagues in Maryland. At that time, there were established men’s leagues in the D.C. -Metro area but no real efforts in place to grow the game through local communities. 

Earlier this month, the MYCA announced a new partnership with the Baltimore Orioles, as the franchise is set to host its first-ever “Cricket Day” on Sunday, August 11th against the Houston Astros. “Cricket has a long and storied history in Maryland, and it’s great to see the Orioles getting behind its resurgence,” said Harrison. He believes that baseball fans can easily find cricket appealing, as many players have made the transition between the two sports, “The games share a common ancestry with many similar elements. It’s only natural that baseball fans would be cricket fans and vice-versa.”

Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game will be 14-year-old Lisa Ramjit of Bowie. The Prince George’s county resident shined this year for Team USA. Ramjit started by taking the first-ever International T20 wicket in USA Women’s cricket history on just her second ball, going on to become the top T20 International wicket-taker in USA Women’s Cricket history. 

Ramjit started playing cricket at the age of seven for the 11U ball team of the Boys and Girls Club of Bowie. The areas of the state seeing the largest growth and popularity have been in the metropolitan areas, specifically Montgomery, Howard and parts of Prince George’s Counties, according to Harrison. 

“Since 2010, I’ve personally placed free cricket sets in hundreds of schools in Maryland and taught the game to thousands of students,” said Harrison, who admits that it’s been more than an individual effort, “In 2011, I met Sham Chotoo from the Boys and Girls Club of Bowie. I brought him into MYCA and his activity in schools has even surpassed me.”

A Chance Encounter at an Unlikely Place

As a teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Baltimore, Harrison went on a field trip with students to a Civil War site in Virginia in 2008. That is where he was first introduced to the game. Harrison recalls the class watching a cannon-firing demonstration when “a man in period clothing called out to our group, asking if we would like to play cricket.” Harrison said the sport was being demonstrated as “an artifact of America’s past” and that when his students returned to school the following week, they couldn’t stop talking about it.

“It was during this time that I saw how quickly American children would take to cricket if they were just given a chance. I began to think about the broader implications of this,” Harrison remembered. Over the next year, Harrison said that he and his students started learning the game together and that they quickly went from using plastic sets to playing tennis ball cricket. Before they knew it, Harrison said that he and his students were playing the game with the same equipment and rules as the international game. 

Just as the club began to take off, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced the closure of Cardinal Gibbons in 2010. “I couldn’t let the sport go. I decided to found the MYCA with the purpose of placing free cricket sets in Maryland schools and give instructions to PE teachers,” Harrison said. 

It was around this time that Harrison started hearing from people around the country who shared a similar passion for the game that he did. He partnered with cricket enthusiasts from around the U.S. to help form the United States Youth Cricket Association (USYCA). The USYCA worked to raise money, donating more than 2,000 cricket sets and training to schools throughout the United States. Harrison left the USYCA in 2016 to place his sole focus on growing the sport in the state of Maryland. 

The Old “Boundary” State

Since turning his attention to Maryland, Harrison says the MYCA has grown into the nation’s only statewide junior competition organization. He credits Chotoo for his work in Prince George’s County, which has the only elementary and middle school competition teams in the state. Maryland is also the only representative state team in the country, which competes in regional and national tournaments at the U12, U14 and U16 age groups. 

In less than a decade, cricket is beginning to gain traction beyond the metro areas with clubs in Carroll County, the Lutherville-Timonium area of Baltimore County and in the Anne Arundel County communities of Linthicum and Ferndale, where Harrison coaches. Because of the growth in the state, Maryland’s Sports Commission awarded the MYCA with a grant for $2,500 in 2018. 

“When most people think cricket, they don’t necessarily think about the United States, let alone Maryland. Our hope is that the perception changes,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of Maryland’s Sports Commission. “Through the partnership between the MYCA and Maryland Sports, our goal is to promote the state of Maryland as a destination for future championships and tournaments for the game of cricket, especially as its popularity grows in the U.S. More importantly though, we want to make sure that the children in this state have the ability to build upon their skills and give them the opportunity to pursue their passion.”

For the Orioles first “Cricket Day”, $5 of every “Cricket Ticket” sold will go to benefit youth cricket in Maryland. Children who attend the game in their cricket uniforms will also receive a special “6”/ “Home Run” sign to waive in the stands. 

Harrison is hoping the partnership with the Orioles will further promote and enhance the popularity of the game. “I can easily imagine a child who’s never been exposed to cricket seeing children at the game, wearing these interesting uniforms, having fun with their “6” signs and the kids who don’t play cricket asking their parents, ‘What’s that about? It might spark some curiosity, maybe among the parents, too. I hope so, anyway.”

For more information about the Maryland Youth Cricket Association, visit:

https://www.mdyouthcricket.org/

For ticket information about the Baltimore Orioles “Cricket Day”, visit:

https://www.mlb.com/orioles/tickets/specials/orioles-cricket-day

About Maryland Sports:

The mission of Maryland’s Sports Commission is to enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events. 

Stars of today and tomorrow shine at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County

Members of USWNT Highlight Fun-filled Summer in Boyds

(Boyds, MD) —  Nestled between the bustling I-270 corridor and the rushing waters of the Potomac River, there is a place where the sports stars of today and tomorrow shine. It’s not quite a cornfield in Iowa, but if there were a Maryland equivalent to Ray Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams”, it just might be the Maryland SoccerPlex & Discovery Sports Center in the town of Boyds in Montgomery County. 

Home to more than 20 soccer fields, with synthetic turf fields complemented by Bermuda and Kentucky Bluegrass natural surfaces, the complex also includes natural and paved walking trails with picturesque streams and ample green space. In addition to the outdoor sports fields and trails, the campus houses the Discovery Sports Center, a 46,000 square foot arena which has basketball and volleyball courts most of the year. In the winter, a synthetic turf field is laid out, allowing for indoor soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball and rugby. The venue has the capability to host conferences, parties and camps year-round. 

The Maryland Soccer Foundation, Inc. manages the Maryland SoccerPlex, Discovery Sports Center, SAM Soccer and a handful of indoor and outdoor tournaments. In 1999, the Montgomery County Planning Board outlined a proposal to build a $19 million dollar soccer complex near Germantown. According to their website, an initiative between the Maryland Soccer Foundation and the MNCPPC was the first public-private partnership in Montgomery County dedicated to creating the largest, premier recreational facility in the D.C. suburbs of Maryland. 

“The Maryland SoccerPlex and Discovery Sports Center are state-of-the-art facilities which offer so much to the region in terms of their ability to host and attract sports organizations and sports tourism,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of Maryland Sports.  “Having a facility like this allows the state of Maryland to remain competitive when it comes to recruiting new events to the state, especially as we make the pitch to national and international organizations.”

Extra attention will be given to the complex in Boyds this week as the Maryland SoccerPlex is also the home of the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Officials are expecting an influx of fans to come out to support U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team stars Mallory Pugh and Bronze Ball winner Rose Lavelle, as they return to action for the Spirit this summer. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Lavelle is expected to miss some upcoming games due to a lingering injury sustained during World Cup play.

“We’re excited to welcome home Rose and Mallory from the World Cup Winning U.S. Women’s National Team” said Matt Libber, Executive Director of the Maryland SoccerPlex and Maryland Soccer Foundation. “While the rest of the country and world may have just learned about the incredibly skilled players like Rose and Mallory, here at the Maryland SoccerPlex, we have been watching them advance women’s soccer everyday this season with the Washington Spirit.” 

Rose Lavelle of the USWNT & Washington Spirit

Fans from across the state will have plenty of opportunities to cheer on their favorite members of the USWNT the rest of the season. The Spirit will host goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and midfielder Julie Ertz of the Chicago Stars later this summer. Their next match against the Houston Dash on Friday July 20th will feature a number of international players, including Rachely Daly of The England Women’s Senior Football Team.  The Spirit will also host Alex Morgan and the Orlando Pride as well as Golden Boot Winner, Megan Rapinoe and Reign F.C. However, soccer fans will have to travel into the District for those matches at Audi Field.

Mallory Pugh of the USWNT & Washington Spirit

“The members of the USWNT are undoubtedly the most popular athletes in sports right now, not just here in the U.S., but across the globe,” said Hasseltine adding, “The fact that Marylanders can make a short trip to Montgomery County to see the Rose Lavelle’s, Mallory Pugh’s and the other stars of the international game shows just how lucky we are to have a facility like the Maryland SoccerPlex so close to us.  We hope we can keep that momentum going as Maryland Sports works to secure future national and international soccer events here in the state.” 

Baltimore is currently one of a number of potential host cities for the FIFA 2026 World Cup™. As part of the Maryland Sports bid, the Maryland SoccerPlex is listed as a potential training site for participating nation’s teams. 

For more information about the Maryland SoccerPlex & Discovery Sports Center visit:

http://www.mdsoccerplex.org

For more information about the Washington Spirit, including their upcoming schedule, visit:

https://washingtonspirit.com/

About Maryland Sports:

The mission of Maryland’s Sports Commission is to enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events. 

Photo Credits: @MDSoccerPlex, Instagram & @washingtonspirit, Instagram

Softball Teams from around U.S., Canada takeover Lower Shore for annual USSSA Tournament

Since 2007, USSSA Tournament grows from 30 teams to almost 400

(SALISBURY, MD) — Nearly 400 softball teams from across the country will travel to Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore for the annual United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Eastern Nationals Championship. What started as a tournament of 30 teams in 2007, has swelled to more than 370 in a little more than a decade. With more than 5,000 players and their families visiting the Delmarva peninsula over the next three weeks, tournament play will be spread out at venues across Wicomico and Worcester Counties, as well as Ocean City.

“For the teams, the event and the location is a perfect culmination of their season – playing competitive softball in arguably the East Coast’s best summer beach community,” said Bill Dowell, USSSA Vice President of Fastpitch/ Maryland & Delaware State Fastpitch Director.

Andrew Kurtz, Wicomico County sports marketing representative, says many families also use the softball tournament as an opportunity to take advantage of the Lower Shore as a vacation destination, “Wicomico and Worcester Counties and the Town of Ocean City will see a boost in tourist activities throughout the three weeks of tournament play.” Kurtz and tournament organizers say teams will be traveling to the region from all across the United States, from as far west as Utah, with some visitors coming from Canada as well.

Wicomico County has been the home of the USSSA Eastern Nationals since 2007. As the event grew in popularity, organizers were forced to adapt to meet the demand. In 2014, the tournament was hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance (MAASA), a multi-jurisdictional sports marketing partnership consisting of the Town of Ocean City, Wicomico and Worcester Counties. MAASA is the first partnership of its kind in the United States, working together to combine resources and assets with the goal of attracting, retaining, and recruiting sports marketing events.

“Over the years we have worked with USSSA East and our partners in MAASA to help grow the Eastern Nationals,” Kurtz said, adding, “This event is now one of the largest fast-pitch tournaments in one location in the nation.” Wicomico and Worcester Counties and the Town of Ocean City are also members of TEAM Maryland, a statewide initiative designed to collectively market Maryland to the entire sports industry as a sport-tourism destination.

In terms of the tournament’s economic benefit to the area, MAASA reported direct impact spending at more than $5 million in 2018. This included the booking of more than 13,000 hotel rooms in Wicomico and Worcester Counties and the Town of Ocean City. Wicomico Recreation, Parks and Tourism estimates an overall economic impact of more than $20 million dollars across the three jurisdictions this year.

“The partnership between MAASA, the USSSA East and Maryland Sports is one that has been incredibly beneficial for the Lower Eastern Shore and the state as a whole,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of Maryland’s Sports Commission. “It’s been truly exciting to watch this tournament grow as it has, where the players, their families and the local community look forward to this event each year.”

Delmarva residents have embraced the USSSA. Over the years, players have been welcomed to the area with messages and signage posted at area businesses. Local restaurants have hosted themed-takeover nights hoping to capitalize on the event.

James Simmons, Recreation Superintendent for Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism says the tournament has built a bond between the local community with the softball community:

“This is a huge opportunity for our local softball programs, leagues and teams. Hosting a national event in our hometown is great for our locals to see the best that the sport has to offer. Over the years, we have seen that bleed into our local community and their passion and dedication for the sport.”

In the past, teams have enjoyed group outings at the Salisbury Zoo and Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds. This year, players and their families have opportunities to take advantage of discounted pricing at many area attractions around Salisbury and Ocean City.

Opening ceremonies for Weeks 1 and 2 will include a team parade through Downtown Salisbury and Week 3 will kickoff with a parade on the Ocean City Boardwalk.For each of the opening ceremonies, players are encouraged to wear costumes supporting this year’s “Stars and Stripes” theme.

Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex in Salisbury will once again serve as the main fields for tournament play. Games will be hosted at sites around Wicomico and Worcester Counties, as well as at Northside Park in the Town of Ocean City.

The USSSA Eastern Nationals are divided into three tournament weeks:

Week 1: July 17 – 21; 10U, 12U Open
Week 2: July 23 – 28; 14U Open, 14U B
Week 3: July 29 – August 3; 16U Open, 18U Open, 18U B

For more information, including a complete schedule of tournament events, visit: http://www.wicosports.org/sporting-events/EasternNationalChampionships

About MAASA:

The Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance (MAASA) works to link and leverage the combined assets of Ocean City and Wicomico and Worcester Counties to attract, retain and build sports marketing events with a focus on amatue athletics, to establish a national reputation and grow the region’s economic impact.

About Maryland Sports:

The mission of Maryland’s Sports Commission is to enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events.


Hagerstown Community Welcomes Return of USA Cycling National Championships

Washington County residents play major role in event’s success.

Cyclists tackle the Criterium in Downtown Hagerstown, MD

HAGERSTOWN, MD — For the second year in a row, the nations top competitors descended upon Washington County, Maryland for the 2019 USA Cycling (USAC) Amateur Road National Championships. Over the course of four days, cyclists tackled the rolling hills of Boonsboro and Clear Spring, with the final day consisting of the high-intensity Criterium (Crit) through the aesthetically pleasing streets of historic Downtown Hagerstown. 

The action-packed weekend kicked-off Wednesday, June 19th, with the Big Bike BBQ Event at the scenic Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville. On Thursday, cyclists took to the roads, starting with the Time Trials, where competitors rode past the lush farmlands of Boonsboro. On Friday and Saturday, racers tackled the picturesque backroads of Clear Spring in the two-day Road Race. The championships came to a conclusion Sunday – at speeds of 25 to 30 mph – with the fast-paced Crit through the Arts and Cultural Districts in beautiful Downtown Hagerstown. 

“Hosting the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championship was such an incredible experience that brought both our local community together and cyclists from across the nation to Washington County” said Audrey Vargason, director of sales for Visit Hagerstown

The Hagerstown and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that the 2018 USAC Championship Weekend generated $1.4 million dollars in revenue for the county, while Sports Destination Management Magazine reported around $2.6 million dollars for direct and indirect spending. Visit Hagerstown officials are confident that this year’s totals will match the turn-out from 2018, which saw more than 670 athletes competing in the weekends events.  That number doesn’t include the families of cyclists, supporters and other racing enthusiasts who patronized local hotels and businesses.  

The USAC Championships have created an opportunity to connect Washington County residents with the national cycling scene. Spectators lined country roads and downtown streets, ringing cowbells and cheering on the competitors. The final day of racing included a family-friendly Block Party at University Plaza in Downtown Hagerstown, with live musical performances, food from local vendors, and a Kids Zone with face painting and popular backyard games like cornhole, Connect Four, and oversized Jenga sets. 

In order to execute an event of this size, Visit Hagerstown relied heavily on the help of local residents who served as volunteers throughout the four days of racing, some of which were on the scene as early as 3:30 a.m. Tasks varied depending on the day, especially as the sites of the races changed. For the Time Trials, volunteers spread out across the 11 to 30 kilometer (6.8 to 18.6 miles) course, building fencing and putting up signage. For the Clear Spring Road Races, where the course distance was between 80 and 162 kilometers (50 to 100.6 miles), volunteers worked in the “Feed Zone”, areas where competitors can receive water bottles as they race. Many local residents were amazed by the speed of the competitors, especially as they attempted to hand them drinks on-the-go.

First responders, along with Hagerstown and Washington County government officials, also played an instrumental role in making sure the event went smoothly. Whether it was the unfortunate circumstance of attending to an injured cyclist, providing escorts, setting up detours, or communicating road closures with local residents, race officials took an “all hands on deck” approach. 

“Over a dozen agencies came together to combine resources and worked in a cooperative manner to ensure the event was safe” said Vargason, adding, “Once we met that goal, everything else really came together so we could then focus on enhancing the visitor experience and promote lodging properties, area attractions and events in conjunction with the National Championship.”

Despite the long days and hard work, volunteers and first responders were upbeat, applauding the race as a boon to the economy for Hagerstown and Washington County. Chuck Hodge, Chief of Racing and Events for USA Cycling, commended the work done by Visit Hagerstown and the Maryland Sports Commission, saying, “Great Courses, community cooperation and smooth logistics ensured that all of our participants had a great time while visiting Washington County.”

USA Cycling is the national governing body for the sport of cycling in the United States. The organization oversees road, track, mountain bike, cyclocross, and BMX. Based out of Colorado, USAC is “at the center of the US Olympic movement with peer institutions such as the United States Olympic Committee”, while operating numerous events in cities across the United States. 

The partnership between USA Cycling and Visit Hagerstown began when Visit Hagerstown received an event request for proposal from the Maryland Sports Commission, a division of the Maryland Stadium Authority. Visit Hagerstown is one of several members of TEAM Maryland, a coalition of tourism, county and city government organizations from across the state, with the goal of enhancing, recruiting, and retaining sport tourism in Maryland. 

As far as the racing went, each course presented its own challenges, though most cyclists competed in multiple events. Kaia Schmid, of New England, took home the gold medal and Red, White, and Blue jersey in both the Road Race and The Crit for the Women’s 15-16 Division. While Justin Williams, of Legion LA, took the top spot in the Category 1 Criterium Road National Championship for the second year in a row. As Williams stepped to the podium, donning his championship jersey from 2018, a fan yelled out, “Stripes on Stripes!” generating a roar of laughter and cheers from the crowd.

“Our priorities as a host destination are to ensure first and foremost a safe venue, secondly a memorable visitor experience and third to accelerate economic development in Washington County” Vargason said. 

The weekend did indeed provide a great opportunity for out-of-town cyclists and their families to connect with local residents, especially children from around Washington County who came to cheer on the racers. Many competitors were seen chatting with kids about their equipment and explaining racing strategies and terminology, like peloton, which is the main group of riders in the race.

There were also plenty of “feel-good” stories that came out of the championship weekend. Mercury Endurance Cycle donated one of their bikes to a competitor whose bike was lost by the airline. There was also a touching moment following the conclusion of the U23 group, where an unknown rider gave his bike to a local child instead of shipping it back to his home in California. And Category 1 racer, Evan Hartig, made a deep connection with a local group of Hagerstown children who were some of his loudest supporters at the finish line.

City and county officials were encouraged to see many cyclists and their families around town in their uniforms and team gear at local cafes and restaurants in and around Hagerstown. A large portion of the participants were repeat competitors from last year, with many saying that they plan to return to Washington County in the future, calling it both a great place for road race training and as a vacation destination.