Cricket Outta Compton: History of an all-American cricket club
The Compton Cricket Club during their tour of Australia in 2011 © Getty Images

From being an area dominated by gang violence to being the birthplace of renowned rappers like Kenrdick Lamar, Compton’s image has revolved around violence. However, a group of youngsters, led by a homeless activist and a film producer whose family fled Czechoslovakia during Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime on Jews, adopted the gentleman’s game — cricket. The idea was to teach people to respect each other and stop street violence. Sudatta Mukherjee chronicles the history of Compton Cricket Club, the fascinating journey from bullets to Lord’s Cricket Ground.

Riots, street fights, gang wars…

Compton is located in the southern part of Los Angeles, California. Regarded as one of the oldest cities in Los Angeles, Compton was incorporated on May 11, 1888. She is known for her youthful working-class. The average age of Compton is a mere 30. Compton, over a period of time, went on to become popular due to the growing number of hip-hoppers and rappers originating from the area, but the history of the city dates back to the late 1700s.

Compton has seen a cultural change over last three hundred years and more. From being a Spanish-dominated area till bought by Griffith Dickenson Compton (who gave Compton her name) to being dominated by the African-American community, Compton have adopted all and sundry.

However, the 1950s and 1960s showed an influx of a large African-American community from Watts after the Supreme Court declared racially exclusive housings unconstitutional. Over the next 30 years Compton saw her first African-American being elected as Mayor of a metropolitan city in California, and later, the appointment of the first female African-American Mayor in the United States.

However, scenes started changing in the 1980s and 1990s, when street gangs started cropping up; during this period Compton saw a rise of gang-affiliated rap and hip-hop groups — genres whose practitioners were often associated with gang violence and crime in the area. In 1988, NWA, a rap band launched an album Straight Outta Compton. Street fights, gang wars, and even riots forced a major wealthy population out of Compton.

Ted Hayes  © Getty Images
Ted Hayes © Getty Images


Birth of the “American Gandhi”

Theodore ‘Ted’ Hayes was born in Columbus, Georgia on March 9, 1951 to a “Buffalo Solder” (segregated US Army Black Buffalo Division in World War II and the Korean Conflict). Ted was one of six children — five boys and one girl. His childhood was spent in a spiritually, fair and social consciousness atmosphere. As an adolescent, Ted was influenced by the Boys Scouts of America. Growing up, he showed immense interest in participating in social causes and love for fellow citizens.

Justiceville, a shelter for the homeless in Los Angeles, was formed in January 1985. Hayes’s sudden growth in popularity forced the government and authorities to take notice and focus on the homeless community. A few years down the line Hayes founded Dome Village, which was designed to “break the cycle” of homelessness. Hayes was subsequently by the Prince Edward of England, the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum.

It is roughly around this time they started calling Hayes American Gandhi, though it is not clear who or when.

A Compton is born

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, was about to visit Los Angeles for presenting the Britannia Awards in 1993. Katy Haber, film producer, member of the BAFTA/LA Education and Outreach, was Executive Director of Dome Village. When she heard that the Prince would be visiting, she asked the then British Counsel-General if His Royal Highness “would consider visiting the underbelly of Los Angeles and as well as tinsel town.”

Luckily for them, Prince Edward not only visited but went on to spent the day at Skid Row, where Dome Village is situated. Katy in her TEDx Napa Valley Talks recollects Prince Edward graciously inviting her, “Well, the next time you come to England, you must come and visit me in my house and join me for a spot of tea.”

On a 1995 morning, the captain of the Beverly Hills cricket team (yes, such a thing exists) called Katy, Secretary of British Academy cricket team, and enquired if there was anyone available to play cricket that weekend. With no one around, Katy asked Hayes if he would like play cricket the coming weekend. Hayes, immersed in work, cast a disoriented glance at Katy, blurting out the obvious question: “What’s cricket?” Katy went on to explain that it is “a sport like baseball” where “instead of running around in circles, you run up and down.” A few days later the homeless activist went on to play cricket with the Hollywood sign being one of their spectators.

After making first contact with the ball, Hayes threw his bat and looked around to run to the first base in true baseball fashion. However, at the end of the day, he was totally hooked on to the game. The words he uttered remain iconic to this day: “Let’s teach cricket to the homeless. This is such a gentlemanly, ethical sport. I know what they will learn on the field of play, they will take into their lives and it will change them.”

Photo Courtesy – Katy Haber, TEDX Talks
Photo Courtesy – Katy Haber, TEDX Talks.

It’s not cricket, it’s Kricket!

In the next six months, with the help of “expat cricketers”, Hayes and Katy not only went on to form the LA Kricket team (trust an American to come up with the spelling), and they went on to become the first homeless cricket team to tour England in September 1995.

Hayes soon realised cricket could go on to become as a major tool in preventing the young from joining gangs and engaging in criminal activities. On June 1, 1996, ‘The Day of Kricket’ was held at Compton High School. Compton Cricket Club, nicknamed as “The Homies and the Popz”, was thus formed.

The formation of the club was to “find the alternative to gang activities, violence and prisons which ruled their neighbourhood, giving them a vision of a positive and productive future” in Compton. Initially, the team also included former gang members.

Hayes went on to say, “The aim of playing cricket is to teach people how to respect themselves and respect authority so they stop killing each other.”

“Cricket goes beyond the boundary. I believe, if you go on to the cricket field, with that kind of thinking, by the time the game is over, when you leave the field, you are a much better person that came on the field in the first place.”

Photo Courtesy – Katy Haber, TEDX Talks
Photo Courtesy – Katy Haber, TEDX Talks.

In 1997, The Homies and the Popz toured England for the first time. The tour included a match at Hambledon, the cradle of cricket, no less. While visiting the houses of parliament, the team bumped into Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin party, who invited them to visit him in Northern Ireland.

Photo Courtesy – Compton Cricket Club.
Photo Courtesy – Compton Cricket Club.

In 1999, The Homies and the Popz, while touring England also visited Northern Ireland and met Gerry Adams at Stormont Castle, where they played a cricket match against the British Civil Services team. During the tour, they went on to learn the game of Hurling. As part of international goodwill, the Compton Cricket Club went on to witness, what Katy puts in, “as to what 800 years of urban violence can do to a nation.”

On the same tour, Compton Cricket Club went on to visit not only Buckingham Palace but also Windsor Castle. They also went on to play cricket against Windsor Castle staff, and “serenaded His Royal Highness in the clubhouse with Theo and Isaac Hayes cricket rap — From Bullets To Balls To Grass and Mats…We Play’in’ Cricket.”

The Homies and the Popz at Lord's. Photo Courtesy – Katy Haber, TEDX Talks.
The Homies and the Popz at Lord’s. Photo Courtesy – Katy Haber, TEDX Talks.

In 2001, the club became the first all-American cricket team to play at Lord’s. The tour coincided with that of the second aboriginal team from Australia to Hambledon — for the first time since 1868.

Many from the team hailed from a small Australian outback town of Harrow. The team travelled for almost three and a half months to play at Lord’s. One of their members, King Cole, had died during the trip and was buried at Hastings, Kent. Compton Cricket Club played the team from Australia in Hambledon in 2001 for the first Indigenous Cup.

Emidio Cazarez (left) of The Homies and the Popz with a Sydney University player © Getty Images
Emidio Cazarez (left) of The Homies and the Popz with a Sydney University player © Getty Images

 

Compton Cricket Club became the first all-American indigenous cricket team to tour Australia in 2011. During the tour they visited Harrow, where they played a cricket match against the descendants of the Johnny Mullagh Cricket XI, named after the most illustrious member of the aborigines of 1868.

In 2012 they was approached by Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-terrorism unit to teach them cricket, to use the sport as conflict resolution.

During Last Man Stands tournament. The team with captain Nick Compton (second from right). Photo Courtesy – Compton Cricket Club.
During Last Man Stands tournament. The team with captain Nick Compton (second from right). Photo Courtesy – Compton Cricket Club.

Compton and Compton

In October 2014 they made it to the finals of the Last Man Stands tournament in Napa Valley. It was in this event that they were captained by Nick Compton (yes, the England opener and the grandson of Denis Compton). The fact that the illustrious surname matched the name of the club meant there had to an anecdote — and of course there was one!

Katy, during her TEDx Talks, shares a funny incident: “When I was arranging our first tour of England in 1997, I called Denis Compton and said that we wanted to play him and visit his village team. He was thrilled that we were coming and thanked us for naming our team after him. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was not the case.” However, Denis passed away before the club toured.

What do they do these days?

To commemorate the lives of Jesse Cazarez and Steve Pinales, a graffiti adorns the wall in the memory of the two. The members had lost their lives on the street. Compton Cricket Club also got immortalised when the portraits of the two members were put on display from June to September 2015 at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of the Compton Cricket Club Exhibition by Edward Sutcliffe (no known relation to Herbert).

(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English television show on her laptop. Her Twitter handle is @blackrosegal)