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When a kid really gets into a sport, parents often come along for the ride. They become driver, cheerleader, fundraiser. The commitments can be intense, but also a great way to bond and find a community. That's what NPR's Arun Rath found when he took his son to represent their town at the National Youth Cricket League tournament earlier this month.
ARUN RATH, BYLINE: It was a gorgeous sunny day over the Fourth of July weekend, and I was on a baseball field in Connecticut watching my boy compete in the all-American game of cricket.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: Run. Hey...
RATH: His team, the Lexington Cricket League, was not doing well.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Get off the wicket.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: What?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Get off the wicket. Get to the side.
RATH: It was their first time playing at tournament level. Instead of the soft, tennis-like ball they were used to, they were facing the traditional hard leather ball. Nuh Shaheer quickly learned you have to relax to catch it.
NUH SHAHEER: It hurts. It doesn't hurt that much, but it hurts, like, when you're scared.
RATH: Unlike baseball, outfielders in cricket don't get gloves. Batting is also trickier. You're not just trying to hit the ball, but keep it from knocking down a set of wooden stumps behind you.
SOHUM ATNOOR: Well, it felt kind of nerve-wracking. Like, when I was batting it was just, OK, hit the ball and don't let it hit your wickets.
RATH: That's 12-year-old Sohum Atnoor.
SOHUM: It was even scarier bowling because if they hit, like, a six I would just feel terrible about myself.
RATH: Bowling is equivalent to pitching in baseball. Hitting a six is like a home run. They were skills the East Bay Cricket Club had mastered.
RATH: Our side - not so much. My son got bowled out, the stumps knocked down on his first pitch. Dads were drying tears on the sideline. Lexington Cricket is just a few years old. It started with a pickup game. Vivek Gupta took his son and a few friends down to the park to show them the game he grew up loving.
VIVEK GUPTA: And suddenly we started seeing some kids walking in, trickling in. So some Indian parents, they just dropped their kids and went away. So (laughter) we said, OK, since you're here, let's start playing. And that - those kids started growing. More and more kids started coming. So now we said, OK, if there's enough kids, let's get them organized.
RATH: On the second day of the tournament, we were facing the reigning three-time champions, and again, we were getting crushed. But it was a much happier sideline. Our boys got some nice hits in.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKET BAT CRACK, CHEERING)
RATH: Coaches were doing drills on the sidelines during the game, keeping the players encouraged.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKET BAT CRACK)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Watch it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Whoa.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Nice shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This is your bad, dude.
RATH: And even though we didn't win that game or any of the others, the kids had a blast.
SOHUM: I feel like we were just having fun because this is - like, it didn't really matter what happened. This is our first tournament. It's supposed to be, like, a team bonding thing. And I got to make some good friends with the people I was around with.
RATH: The same was true for the parents. The big attraction for a lot of us isn't so much cricket. I played the game maybe five times as a kid. It's more about connecting with other people of South Asian descent. We call ourselves desis.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Singing in foreign language).
RATH: The gatherings for the tournament had more the feeling of a big desi family reunion than a sporting event. It was nice for us, but we also realized that cricket can't grow in America if it's only desi kids playing. Vivek Gupta.
GUPTA: We've not been able to do a good job of sort of communicating to them, yes, that we are doing organized sport for the children. So it's just a matter of time before they come to know and, you know, they get more awareness.
RATH: Gupta and other organizers want to reach out to other communities of immigrants from cricket-loving countries like England and Australia and African and Caribbean countries. But the goal is to get all American kids as excited about cricket as this group. Arun Rath, NPR News.
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