York Memorial Collegiate Institute has had a boys' cricket team for longer than the 10 years coach Mahendra Ram has been there. But girls' cricket was officially recognized only two years ago – and the team is now a force to be reckoned with.
The girls' team is undefeated except for an early game against neighbouring school George Harvey Collegiate Institute. "We never let that happen again," team captain Saabiqa Chowdhury says with a competitive smirk.
Last month, the York Memorial girls' team claimed its second CIMA Mayor's School Cricket Tournament CIBC Trophy. About 75 schools from four cities will compete in this year's annual tournament, which runs May 12-16, with finals on the last Saturday of the month. The tournament takes place at schools in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Markham.
The team's coach, Mr. Ram, says that boys have traditionally played the sport, but Toronto schools are starting to follow the lead of national-level cricket, which introduced a women's team in 2006.
Ms. Chowdhury, 17, scrunches her nose in disapproval at the thought of cricket as a boys' game but says their advantage is experience.
"We never played cricket before so we're just learning," she says. "The boys – the majority of them – have played cricket for years now."
About 100 schools in Toronto have cricket teams. Indoor school cricket usually runs from January to the first week of May with outdoor games from late May to the first week of June.
When Lambton-Kingsway Junior Middle School math teacher Dilhan Kuru introduced cricket at the school five years ago, interest in the sport – new to most of the students – was so high, he had to hold twice as many tryouts as other sports. But he took a unique approach: Most of his players had never tried the sport, so he asked the baseball coach who the best players were so he could get them to a cricket tryout.
"Unlike other teams where we have two or three tryouts and we pick the team, we had eight or 10 tryouts for this one just so I could coach them a little bit," Mr. Kuru said at the tournament launch, where his team won the spirit of cricket award for sportsmanship.
Cricket has been recognized by the Toronto District School Board as an official sport for more than 10 years. Over that time, it has been introduced to a growing following of first-time players, many of whom say it can offer a level playing field for everyone.
Ranil Mendis, the CIMA Mayor's School Cricket Tournament organizer, says that after immigrants helped to make the sport popular again in Canada, the second step was making it possible for first-generation Canadians to play cricket at the school level.
"But now the third step is these schools where traditional Canadian sports are taking place – where hockey and baseball are being played," he says. "It is now slowly cutting across those boundaries."
Half the baseball players at Lambton-Kingsway ended up joining Mr. Kuru's first team, providing a strong backbone. But it wasn't a matter of the catcher becoming the wicket-keeper and the batter becoming the batsman. "Most kids come to cricket with very little skill base," Mr. Kuru says. "Everyone starts on the same level."
An avid baseball player, 13-year-old Adam Bonello tried out for the team a year ago because he thought it was going to be like the sport he loves. "I knew nothing," he says about getting into the sport. "I just knew that if you hit a wicket you're out and you can hit the ball 360 degrees."
His teammate Cooper Overstrom plays as many school sports as he can, but he says cricket is his favourite. "I play football with my friends, I play hockey with my friends, I play volleyball sometimes with my friends, I play house league baseball," the grade eight student says. "But I can only play cricket at my school, which is what makes it so fun."
Like Lambton-Kingsway, many of the players on the York Memorial girls' cricket team are from non-traditional cricket-playing backgrounds and just tried out for the fun of the game.
"I have kids from all over the world on my team," Mr. Ram, the girls' coach, says. "More people are aware of it, not just within the traditional communities that play cricket. … They're willing to try a new sport because they're athletes and they are interested in learning new things."