BY LINDSEY ZILIAK
KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — Sixth-grade students at Maple Crest Middle School bowled balls in their gymnasium Friday as they tried to trip up the batters and hit the wicket.
It was their first-ever lesson in cricket.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in gym class,” Blake Singer told the Kokomo Tribune as he wiped sweat from his face and tried to catch his breath.
Teachers from seven area schools watched as Jatin Patel taught students the rules of the game.
Patel was born in Surat, Gujarat, India, but now lives in Indianapolis. He started playing cricket for a school team when he was 8 years old.
He eventually played for some professional teams before coming to the United States — a country where baseball is the favorite pastime and cricket remains largely unknown.
Patel is quick to point out, though, that cricket is the second most popular sport in the world and is considered the grandfather of baseball and softball.
When he settled his family in Indianapolis, he made it his mission to make sure more people understood his favorite sport.
“My hobby is to pass the skill on to young kids,” Patel said.
He became vice president of the United States Youth Cricket Association and president of Indiana’s chapter.
When he’s not working at his full-time job, he’s traveling the state showing teachers and students how cricket is played.
He said Friday that about 200 schools in the state now teach the sport in their physical education classes.
That makes Indiana a national leader, Patel said.
Several area schools will soon join the ranks. Maple Crest, Central Middle School, Kokomo High School, Northwestern Middle School and Lafayette Park, Sycamore and Elwood Haynes elementary schools all have plans to fold the sport into their curriculum.
Teachers from every school were at Maple Crest Friday to learn from Patel. Northwestern teacher Robin Whaley said bringing cricket to the classroom is a “no brainer.”
“We’re always looking for new things to do with our students,” she said. “And they get to learn about another culture.”
That was really a draw for Kokomo’s international schools.
Sarah Hemmerich teaches international baccalaureate classes at Kokomo High School.
The program requires teachers to foster international-mindedness in the classroom. So educators jump at the chance to introduce customs and activities from other countries, she said.
Whaley and Maple Crest teacher Vicki Boles like that students have to play 360-degree defense in cricket.
There is no foul territory in the sport, Patel said. Batters can hit the ball anywhere, including behind them.
Nine of a team’s 11 players are running around trying to cover all corners of the field, he said.
That’s exactly what Boles wants.
“No P.E. teacher wants students just standing around,” she said. “Our goal is that their heart rate stays at 150 or higher for 30 minutes.”
It worked for Singer and sixth-grader Sebastian McAmis.
Both were wiping sweat away from their faces by the end of class.
McAmis said he keeps a bottle of cologne in his binder at school. He sweated so much he had to spray it on his hat and shirt after class, he said with a laugh.
The game wasn’t just a challenge physically, though. It tested them mentally, too.
“It’s way different than baseball … way different,” Singer said. “Batting is more like a golf swing.”
Even pitching the ball is different.
In cricket, pitching is called bowling. The ball has to bounce at least once when you throw it.
Patel said cricket is far more challenging than baseball. There are more rules.
“This will be the toughest sport for any American kid,” he said.
That challenge is exactly what students need, Boles said. She calls it “brain dripping.”
She wants them breathing hard and thinking hard in her classroom.
When she adds cricket to her curriculum, she will make students learn about the history of the game and the rules.
They will take tests to ensure they’re learning it.
Singer and McAmis are more concerned about when they will get to play the sport again.
It was a lot of fun, the boys said. In fact, they’re hoping Boles lets them play it once a week in gym class.
Boles said she just hopes the students like it enough to try it out at home. Another one of her goals is to pry students away from their televisions and video games long enough to go outside and get a few minutes of exercise at home.
McAmis and Singer said that wouldn’t be a problem.
They had plans to go home and teach their brothers and friends in the neighborhood how to play.
But since cricket equipment isn’t sold in local stores, they would have to fashion makeshift bats.
McAmis said he would use a regular baseball bat. Singer said he was going to dig up an old boat oar, which more closely resembles the flatter cricket bat.
Singer said cricket is something he can see himself playing for the rest of his life.
“This is a game we’ll have to teach our sons and daughters,” he said.