Maree (ms_maree) wrote in ontd_political,

Compton's cricketers live life 'not out'

Cricket Australia has had its challenges in the past 12 months, having surrendered the Ashes in a shock 3-1 series loss on home soil and facing an uphill battle to promote the flagging domestic one-day format.

But perhaps CA should spare a thought for a "band of brothers" from Compton, an infamous city in South Central Los Angeles, who face an everyday struggle just to get a flat patch of grass to play on.

Those brothers are known as "The Homies & the POPz" of the Compton Cricket Club, and they make up the first-ever team consisting solely of American-born players to tour Australia.

They previously toured the traditional home of cricket and even met Prince Edward and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on visits to the UK in 1997, 1999 and 2001.

While it's akin to a religion in the Empire, cricket is a curiosity in the United States, where the majority of players are ex-pats from India, England, Sri Lanka and the Carribean.

To the Homies though, the sport and its culture have become more like a way of life.

"Can I say cricket saved my life? No I won't say that, because I believe I saved my own life because I had to make decisions," Homies co-captain Theo Hayes told Grandstand Online from Sydney Harbour, where the team was enjoying a day off after its first two tour matches.

"No one forced me to play cricket. I saw it as something that was going to be constructive and away I went.

"But I can tell you where I wouldn't be - I wouldn't be on a boat!"

In the streets of Compton, once named the 15th most dangerous city in the US by the FBI and made infamous by rap group NWA's album Straight Outta Compton in 1988, the sport is building a reputation as an alternative path to gang affiliation, crime and incarceration.

The club was started in 1995 by homeless activist Ted Hayes - Theo's father - and British ex-pat Katy Haber, a Hollywood movie producer, who felt the game's etiquette could be a stabilising influence on the lives of LA's impoverished.

"We got these youngsters, we recruited them before the gangs could," Theo Hayes said.

"That's very key, is getting a hold of these young children's lives and giving them something positive to steer towards before the gangs get them.

"Cricket is an awesome tool to do that because it's a fun sport and the etiquette it's driving home and the culture and the background you know, from the fathers to the sons in the villages.

"That's where it started in England and it's gone so far, and we want to take it further."

For love of the game

The CCC also uses a promotional medium out of left field that has so far remained unexplored by Cricket Australia, namely hip-hop music.

"We wrote original rap songs about our experiences in cricket and where we'd like to see cricket go," Theo Hayes said.

"We use it as an alternative [for] children who love hip-hop; it's a safer attitude, it's a safer environment because of the lyrical content but with the same type of driving beats and enforcing force when it comes to the music.

"We break the cricket language down to a sense that kids in inner cities can relate to and it kinda of draws them closer just because of that energy.

"Once you start playing cricket it's like a bug - once it bites you it's addicting and you can't stop playing, especially if you're good.

"We're just trying to find ways to be creative and get people excited about cricket, we're celebrating and promoting cricket."

Their Australian jaunt sees the Homies take on sides from universities and colleges as well as inner-city and community-based teams in Sydney and Melbourne, including the Redfern All Blacks and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.

Although according to Theo Hayes their opening two fixtures, against Newington College and Sydney University, have posted mixed results.

"The results for the opposing sides have been great, I don't think they have anything to complain about," he laughed.

"In all seriousness, we knew we wouldn't come over here and claim any awards for the best cricketers competitive-wise as far as athleticism and playing the sport [goes], because we're still learning.

"As far as spirit and as far as attitude and heart, we stand up there with the best and we like to believe that at the end of the day - as corny as it may sound - cricket wins and that's really what it's all about."

From the ground up

Theo Hayes' enthusiasm about bringing cricket to a wider audience in his home country is undeniable, but he and his team-mates are realistic about the challenges they face.

"We're grassroots so the only funding we have is through small donations and any money that we raise, so we play on the matting on the bumpy grass," he said.

"You really can't get good bounce and you never really know what to expect.

"The Southern California Cricket Association have the park fields and they do get some professional cricket tournaments going on over there ... every once in a while we're blessed and graced to compete on that field.

"But one of the reasons we're also here is to raise funds, resources and awareness about how interested we are in the sport and how helpful it's been for us, and we'd like to have people give us an opportunity to continue playing cricket if we can get the proper facilities."

Homies vice-captain Emidio Cazarez, who grew up in Compton, was in awe of facilities and competition that are easy to take for granted in a nation born and bred on cricket.

"I love playing in good fields, you get used to playing on these fields where its pretty much the pitch is pretty much like the park, not as good as this until we go play on the third-division fields which we rarely get to see," he said.

"I love playing good cricket versus good players, which is always good to learn.

"I think with proper training we could compete with some of these guys down here.

"The games we've played, we still make a couple of mistakes and we don't have the same practise routines that teams down here probably do but I can see us competing at a decent level."

Down for the challenge

Cazarez, 28, picked up the sport around 13 years ago when Ted Hayes and English ex-pat Katy Haber visited his junior high school on a recruiting trip, and after shaking off some initial doubts the "manly" aspect of the sport and his competitive nature took over.

"It didn't sound cool to me so ... I'm okay with it, I'll pass," he recalled.

"[But eventually] I go, I meet Ted. I like the fact that you don't wear gloves because that was already a challenge for me, something manly, 'I've got the hands to take the hit'.

"And then you've only got one out so if you're good you can stay out there all day, so I say I can prove I'm good, I'll stay out here all day!"

And despite the infamy of the city in which they play, neither Cazarez nor Theo Hayes shy away from waxing sentimental about their adopted sport.

"There's a lot of doors. You don't have to stick to one little road and one thing and 'this is me and this is what I have to do', no," Cazarez said.

"You have many opportunities, God blesses us with all type of things that we can take advantage of, so use them.

"I mean, who'd have thought kids from Compton would be playing cricket down here?"

Co-captain Hayes summed it up with the insight one would more likely find in someone who was born with a red leather ball in hand.

"[We tell the kids to] play every ball that's given to you in life as it comes to you with respect," he said.

"You'll live a lot longer and you'll see a lot more progress in your success in life.

"So we say we play cricket on and off the field and we play cricket and we live life 'not-out'."

Tags: los angeles, poverty, sports

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