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Cricket anyone?

Sport rapidly growing in popularity across Tri-Valley

If you've been around Pleasanton long enough, you have seen the evolution of youth sports.

In the 1960s, Little League had its baseball fields on the Alameda County Fairgrounds before moving to the Pleasanton Sports Park. In the 1970s, soccer started making an impact and grew into the most-participated youth sport in town. At the turn of the century, lacrosse began to make its presence known and continues to grow today.

So what's next to take Pleasanton by storm? How about ... cricket?

It's true. Participation in cricket is growing rapidly, with the foundation at the middle school level. And one group in particular has been responsible for the rapid growth among teens in the area.

Pleasanton-based Cricket for Cubs is a nonprofit organization that was formed last November. Ramesh Immadi, who played cricket in India when he was growing up, has been a driving force behind the local growth of the game and serves as the president of Cricket for Cubs.

Not sure what level of interest to expect, the group held an introductory informational meeting and shockingly drew over 800 people from around the Tri-Valley to the meeting, Immadi said. It was at that point things started to kick in and the group charged forward.

Thus far, Cricket for Cubs appears focused on doing everything right to grow cricket in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley.

The group recently held a "Spring Festival" for cricket over five weekends in Dublin and San Ramon, selling out the 300 allotted spots, with about 90% of the campers never having played the game before.

"We sold out the camp in two days," Immadi said. "At first when we started, I was scared about how it would turn out. We got one school going, then we needed a second one and it went from there."

From the start, the organizational structure has been unique from most youth sports groups, since its board of directors is made up of some of the middle school players as well as adults. But the direction has also been calculated and to the point.

In addition to people directly involved with the kids in the program, the Cricket for Cubs board has a pair of U.S. national team members: Nadia Gruny from the women's national team and Srihari Dasarathy from the under-19 USA squad.

It has given the organization credibility and star-power within the sport. The grassroots effort has also been crucial, and it started with family members involved.

Immadi sent his sixth-grade son Ajay -- also one of the board members -- out to help recruit, not just talking to kids but their parents as well.

The recipe appears to have been a success so far.

Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, where Ajay attends, has 50 kids participating in the program, while Fallon Middle School in Dublin has 100 kids playing and Iron Horse Middle School in San Ramon has 30 kids.

The sport has taken such hold at Fallon that it has become part of the physical education curriculum.

"This is the first year we have rolled it out as part of the curriculum," Fallon PE teacher Eric Lamonica said. "It is going really well. A lot of the kids love it, and in fact, they are helping teach (the teachers) the game. (Cricket for Cubs) has been a lot of help and a tremendous resource."

Cricket draws some similarities to baseball in the essentials but in reality is quite different.

There is a bowler (pitcher), batsman (hitter) and a wicket keeper (catcher). There are also innings (two to four depending on the level of game in cricket) and fielders (nine in baseball; 11 in cricket).

Baseball is played on a diamond-shaped field, while cricket is played in circular fashion radiating 50 yards from the center. The game played at the highest level can last around four hours, but the middle school games have been scaled back to about a quarter of that length.

There is a natural cultural attraction for many who play the game, and cricket has seen a natural growth as the population of Indian or Asian residents increases in the Tri-Valley.

"It has become huge for our community," Immadi said. "We see the entire family come out to watch and enjoy the games."

As part of the Spring Festival, there was a middle school tournament held in San Ramon and Dublin where Cricket for Cubs had eight teams participate and 15 games played.

As is the case for any sport that rapidly grows in the area, field space is at a premium -- and in reality is never enough. San Ramon and Dublin have stepped up, with San Ramon having two cricket fields and Dublin one.

Thus far in Pleasanton there are none, and the Harvest Park team is forced to practice one day a week on the blacktop after school on Tuesday. There is support from city leaders in Pleasanton, as Mayor Jerry Thorne recently attended the tournament and was on-hand to help with the awards.

It appears that good news and better times could be on the horizon. When the Bernal Community Park complex opens, more field space will be available for soccer teams and the plan is for a cricket field to be installed at Muirwood Park.

"We are hoping Muirwood will be ready by June," Immadi said.

The participants are a mixed bag, starting with a small but seasoned group of players to those who are just beginning. Being out there representing your school is part of what is growing the sport.

Ajay, 11, is arguably one of the most accomplished youth players in the area. He plays with the U.S. Under-17 National Team, recently touring Sri Lanka. He is one of the better young bowlers on the national team.

Ajay has immediately found what so many high school athletes in the area have experienced. Playing at the high level with travel teams brings one type of pressure. Representing your school, despite a drop in overall talent at the local level, brings another pressure altogether.

"I have seen my son play for four years, and he never cries," Ramesh Immadi said. "But he made an out for Harvest Park, and he had tears. It's the passion of playing for your school."

For more information on Cricket for Cubs, visit to www.cricketforcubs.org.

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