The Westside Community Schools' physical education teachers broke out balls and bats Friday for a little game of. . . cricket?
Yes, cricket — the quintessentially British sport of flat bats and wickets.
And this time, the teachers were the learners, getting basic instruction from white-clad members of the Omaha Cricket Club.
The club, its recent offshoot — the Omaha Youth Cricket Association — and the United States Youth Cricket Association are partnering with the school district to train the teachers so they can offer the game in classes and after-school clubs. The national organization sent free developmental cricket sets — with plastic bats and softer balls — for each school in the district.
The clubs' goal is to expand cricket in the United States, said Bhaskar Krishna, the Omaha club's vice president for development.
Teaching kids is a logical way to start, he said. And who better to reach out to kids than teachers. The Omaha group already has held clinics at a number of schools in the metropolitan area and at a summer camp at Saddlebrook Community Center.
After all, it's America's game, too, Krishna said, noting that cricket was the first team sport played in the United States. George Washington's troops played it at Valley Forge. Abraham Lincoln watched matches back in the day.
"We hope to take this sport to the community, to the kids," Krishna said.
Westside was interested because, well, P.E. teachers are always looking for new ways to develop kids' motor skills and keep them moving.
"We want to provide kids with a repertoire of skills so they'll be competent and confident movers," said Debra Kaplan, who teaches P.E. at Swanson and Sunset Hills Elementary Schools and serves as the district's co-chairwoman for elementary physical education.
With those skills they'll be more willing as adults to take up biking or try Zumba.
The game also brings a multicultural component, she said. Westside has students and families from all over the world, including a number of cricket-playing countries.
"I just thought 'This is a terrific opportunity,'" she said.
The P.E. teachers started their training with some classroom instruction. Then they took it to the gym.
Krishna described the sport as baseball with two bases. It's easy to learn. And it's a game of strategy that doesn't rely too heavily on physical prowess, so people of all ages and abilities can play. While the sport has a reputation for multiday matches, game time, too, can be adjusted. The club's games typically run three to four hours.
Krishna demonstrated different ways of pitching (sometimes called bowling): fast, slow and in between. The pitched ball just has to bounce before it reaches the batter. Once the ball is hit, two batters run back and forth between the wickets — upright poles that serve as bases — trying to score as many runs as they can.
Rondel Korbelik of Hillside Elementary stepped up to pitch. He lobbed one high but didn't get the bounce.
"That's on YouTube," another teacher heckled.
Korbelik threw another with a perfect bounce. The batter smacked it and got a run.
Several batters automatically dropped the bat after they hit, baseball-style. Krishna reminded them that they have to take it with them.
"It's reflexes," said Jay Elliott, an assistant baseball coach at Westside High School who teaches at Oakdale and Paddock Road Elementary Schools.
As they laughed and learned, several teachers talked about ways they could adjust the game to students of all ages and abilities. Because of the circular field there are no foul balls. Even a short hit can earn a run. Younger students could try larger balls, even put the ball on a tee in front of the wicket if necessary.
"We will totally adapt this to our needs," Kaplan said.
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