By Daniel Massey
Pitchers and bowlers, catchers and wicket keepers, lace up your cleats!
Richmond Hill youth can now choose between America’s favorite pastime and the sport of cricket, loved across the world, thanks to two programs in their early innings of development.
But whether they’ll be bowling or pitching, young people in both programs will have to hit the books. The two separate ventures each use sports to help youngsters build their study skills and boost their self esteem.
The South Queens Boys and Girls Club last week announced it had joined forces with Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities program. RBI, founded in 1989 by former Major Leaguer John Young, is designed to use baseball as a vehicle to teach young people important life skills.
“RBI will give kids a chance to play ball while developing their character and teaching them sportsmanship,” said Timothy Brosnan, executive vice president for business of Major League Baseball.
Children between the ages of 6 and 18 can sign up to participate in the program at the club’s headquarters at 110-04 Atlantic Ave. Games and practices will take place at Smokey Oval Park. There is no charge to join for Boys and Girls Club members, said program director André Thomas, but there is one catch: the young ballplayers will have to keep up with a homework program if they want to take the field.
Thomas, who lives in Jamaica and starred for August Martin’s baseball team for three years, said the new program fills a void in the Richmond Hill area.
“We’re in between two leagues,” he said, referring to the RichHaven and Ozone Howard Little Leagues that cater predominantly to Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Howard Beach. “Hearing the prices they charge, I thought I had to close the gap.”
It costs $140 per child to join the Ozone Howard Little League. With a grant from Major League baseball and the prospect of sponsorships from area businesses, Thomas said he should be able to run the program free of charge to participants.
“We want to give the kids an opportunity to express themselves through athletics,” he said.
Meanwhile, if you’d rather run between wickets than bases, Queens Village’s Vish Lekram is recruiting young people and adult volunteers for a similar program that will combine cricket with academics.
Buoyed by the success of a pilot program he launched two years ago at Forest Hills’ Russell Sage Junior High School and Ozone Park’s Virgil Grissom Middle School, Lekram has embarked on a mission to develop the game of cricket in the United States.
The president of the United States Junior and Youth Development Program, Lekram, an environmental scientist who runs the Ozone Park-based Cricket International newspaper, has enlisted the help of Russell Sage teachers Sham Samaroo and Ben Boehm and Virgil Grissom teacher Vishnu Mahadeo to provide the academic component of the program. Former Guyana coach Gary Nascimento and former U.S. national cricket players Zamin Amin, Bill Whyte and Zulf Ally are among those who will handle the athletic aspects.
Occasional visits, like the one West Indies cricket standout Michael Anthony Holding paid to students in the pilot program, will help keep the young athletes’ juices flowing, Lekram said. But he emphasized that the goal of the program is not to produce future international cricket stars.
“If we do, that’s fine and dandy, but we’re not looking to produce 1,000 cricketers,” Lekram said. “I’d love to ensure that each and every kid in the program goes to college. That’s my primary objective.”
Thus far, more than 200 young people from nine different parts of Queens have registered to participate in the program, which is open to all youth under 19 and is free of charge. Last weekend, more than 50 budding cricketers attended a coaching clinic at the Indoor Cricket USA facilities in Richmond Hill.
Lekram told the group that developing attributes such as cooperation, sharing and responsibility were just as important as honing batting skills.
Both the cricket and baseball programs are looking for sponsors and volunteers. For information on RBI, call André Thomas at 718-441-6050, Ext. 205 and for details on the junior cricket program, call Vish Lekram at 718-641-1830.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.