When Debbie Buenger, a former elementary school physical education teacher now at East Middle School in Westminster, introduced the game of cricket to her class one rainy afternoon last year, the excitement blew her away.
"The kids absolutely loved it," Buenger said.
Within the first hour, the class started to grasp the basics and was off playing its first competitive game. There were a few hitches, like remembering to hold onto the bat, but overall Buenger couldn't have been more surprised.
Last year, the United States Youth Cricket Association donated plastic cricket sets to each of the public elementary schools in Carroll County, including Eldersburg, where Buenger had taught.
Because of the warm reception it has received from the kids in PE classes like Buenger's, the Winfield Recreation Council has decided to offer a cricket program next summer after a recommendation by the USYCA.
The six-week introductory program, which is tentatively scheduled from mid-June through July at Mayeski Park in Sykesville, will be available for all ages and is intended to teach the basics of the game.
"They're going to actually get to play cricket in a more structured setting, learn a lot more of the rules, the technique and a lot more of how the game is actually played," said Jamie Harrison, the USYCA president. "They can go from having a vague knowledge of the game to having more specific skills and techniques."
Harrison approached the WRC at a council meeting Sept. 26 with the idea of the camp.
"Once they heard about it they were fired up and good to go," Harrison said.
In the past year, the USYCA has donated more than 700 cricket sets across the United States in an effort to raise awareness of the burgeoning sport, according to Harrison. The sport has grown in popularity in the past 15 years because of modified rules to increase scoring and fan-friendliness.
The growth has been seen in Maryland. Montgomery County is converting 20 softball fields, used previously for adult men's softball games, to cricket fields. The Bowie Boys and Girls club will also offer a summer program similar to the WRC, while Harrison said he has a presentation at the Lutherville/Timonium Recreation Council next month.
Buenger and Harrison both believe the sport is beneficial to kids.
"Culturally, I think it's good for them to know what other countries play and see where different sports come from and get an appreciation of them of that," Buenger said. "It involves a lot of players, so everyone gets to play."
Said Harrison: "Kids are being drawn into cricket and team sports who might not ordinarily participate. They're finding a home in cricket."
Harrison hopes this summer's program, which will be one of at least 20 across the country, will start a trend of growth for the future. His plans include more teams and leagues in the coming years.
"It will bring our youth an alternative activity to play," WRC president Ed Beane Sr. said.
"Everywhere I've gone, kids have fallen in love with cricket," Harrison said. "Anywhere a child hits the ball, they can score runs for their team. Kids love to be the hero and score runs."