BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor at Large, South/Central Bureau email@example.com
Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth - The decision to host the 2013 West Indies Under-15 cricket tournament in St Elizabeth, July 11-26, is being hailed as recognition of the strength of the game in this part of the island.
"Cricket is part of St Elizabeth," said tournament coordinator Brian Breese during the press launch at the Riverside Dock in Black River last week.
And president of the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) Lyndel Wright said excitement consistently generated by the game in St Elizabeth emphasised that "cricket is not a dying game, it is very much alive".
In welcoming the regional tournament to the parish, president of the St Elizabeth Cricket Association Daren Powell, also a former West Indies fast bowler and current parish councillor for the Malvern Division (PNP), spoke of the "great passion" for the game among locals.
Venues for the tournament which will be played on a league basis are the Treasure Beach Sports Complex, the Alpart Sports Club at Nain, the Manley Horne Complex at Ballards Valley and St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) in Santa Cruz.
Cricketers and officials numbering 96 from six regional teams will be housed at boarding facilities at Munro College in Potsdam in the hills of Malvern. The teams are hosts Jamaica, Barbados, Leeward Islands, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Windward Islands.
In recent years, there has been considerable investment in sporting infrastructure in St Elizabeth and tournament organisers said that reality assisted the decision to take the tournament here.
Locals described the move as a major triumph for the parish in the drive to build sports tourism.
"This is an opportunity not just for cricket but to highlight the entire parish," said chairman of the Local Organising Committee Jason Henzell.
Member of Parliament for South West St Elizabeth, Hugh Buchanan said the contribution of "selfless" individuals to the development of cricket in St Elizabeth includes that of JCA vice president and decades- long manager of STETHS, Dr Danny Bennett and national coach Junior Bennett. He called for the two (who are unrelated) to be given national honours for their invaluable contribution to St Elizabeth and Jamaica cricket.
Buchanan, who holds a Master's degree in physical education and sport, urged parents and teachers to encourage their children to play.
"Sport is something that builds a lot of character and there is no sport which builds character as much as cricket," said Buchanan.
Cricket watchers suggested yesterday that next month's under-15 tournament will represent the first time that a regional tournament is being hosted in Jamaica, entirely outside of Kingston.
President of the JCA Lyndel Wright said the move reflected recognition by his administration that "Sabina Park (Jamaica's headquarters of cricket) is not Jamaica".
Henzell said local sponsorship amounting to $2 million in cash and kind had been raised.
West Indies Cricket Board director Milton Henry emphasised the value of age-group cricket in the regional body's development programme with many of the region's top stars being graduates of the under-15 programme.