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Newcomers, No More!
PSAL Inaugural Cricket Champions Are Newcomers

By John L. Aaron

June 13th, 2008
The name emblazoned in blue lettering across their shirts say “Newcomers,” as in Newcomers High School, as in newcomers to the introduction of cricket as one of the New York City Public Schools (PSAL) sports, as in cricket being a new sport to their coach Christina Cavaliere. However, they are newcomers no more. The newly crowned 2008 PSAL cricket champion is Newcomers High School of Queens. (School Cricket)

(L to R) USACA Secretary John Aaron, Coach Christina Cavaliere, Dominic Gomes and PSAL Commisioner Bassett Thompson.

PSAL Cricketer coordinator Lorna Austin and Dominic Gomes.

PSAL Executive Director Douglas, and coach Cavaliere flank Gomes .

Earlier this year, the PSAL added cricket to its growing list of sports afforded the city’s high school athletes, right alongside baseball, swimming, American football, track & field, fencing, tennis, gymnastics, cross-country running and some twenty-seven other events. The difference being that cricket, the second most popular sport in the world and introduced to America almost three centuries ago, was only this year introduced as a mainstream sport within the city’s high school system.

It is ironic that the newly introduced sport was won by a high school named Newcomers and coached by a dynamic and focused female named Christina Cavaliere, a newcomer to the sport of cricket herself. However, that is where the difference ends, as the Newcomers cricket squad consisted entirely of high school students born in cricket-playing nations, or are the offspring of those born in the Caribbean and countries and other countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, located in South Asia.

Bangladesh with a population just north of 150-million people, is nestled between India, Burma, and the Bay of Bengal, and is a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the governing body for cricket worldwide. The largely Muslim nation’s workforce is engaged mainly in agriculture, with cricket as the sport of choice for many. Therefore, it is not unusual to find Bangladeshi schoolboys busily enveloped in the sport in that nation, as well as on any patch of available land in far away places from the country of their birth, or that of their immigrant parents. New York City is one such location several thousand miles away from the hot and humid summer climate – not unlike that which we have been experiencing lately.

At the Top of Their Game
Nineteen-year old Dominic Gomes was born in Bangladesh and has been playing cricket for the past nine years. The olive-skinned young man is the captain of the Newcomers High School team that won the inaugural PSAL cricket championship two Sundays ago at Spring Creek Cricket Ground, in Brooklyn.

A modest, but very assertive individual, Dominic’s cricket experience, a tad too short to be described as a cricket career, is indicative of his response to the question of which individual or cricketer has had the biggest impact on him, so far, answers very simply, “I would like to say my friends.” Such is the modesty that belies the young man’s contribution to his high school winning the championship and putting cricket on the PSAL’s sporting agenda and the New York City sports calendar. He adds that he admires his cricketing friends and some of his fellow high school seniors.

On Monday evening last, the New York Athletic Club at Central Park South in New York City was where the PSAL recognized thirty-five of the city’s best high school athletes for their accomplishments on the field, as well as in the classroom. It was the “Heisman” awards of high school sports, as each of the athletes strode to the microphone to thank God, their parent(s), teachers and coaches for the opportunity and fuel that made them shine so brightly over the past year.

Fellow athletes cheered, parents cried, coaches glowed with chests held high, siblings applauded proudly, but most of all scholastic athletes like Dominic Gomes stared starry-eyed into the limelight of the evening and a future, with sport playing a significant role in helping to shape their minds, bodies, and personalities.

Winning the PSAL championship is but only a small part of the lives of these male and female athletes. In the words of Dominic Gomes, “Oh, I can say all of our hard work paid off, but mostly for our coach Ms. C, because it was tough at the very beginning. It was a little hard, but my vice captain and I discussed the issues with each other and together we solved the problems. In addition, the support received from our school administrators, parents and friends worked for us.”

The attacking batsman and sometimes bowler, added, “From the first game we won playing against John Adams High School, I felt we were going to win the championship.” Such is the confidence of the high school senior who sat at the dinner with his dad, mom, younger sister, and brother, along with his coach Christina Cavaliere, PSAL cricket commissioner Bassett Thompson, former Guyana national cricketer H. Carlyle Miller and United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) Executive Secretary John L. Aaron.

According to Dominic Gomes, coach Cavaliere was instrumental in getting the cricketers to be more disciplined and focused on dealing with the sport. He credits the high school gym teacher for maintaining a strict work ethic, despite it being her first time coaching cricket. He added that Ms. C is very nice and according to him, “…knows how to deal with the game and stuff, by encouraging the squad to practice every day after school in the large Flushing Meadows Park in Queens.”

Ironically, the Queens high school indirectly represented that borough in the PSAL championship and emerged winners just like their adult counter-part cricketers of the borough, who last weekend won the Mayor’s inter-borough cricket cup championship for the second year in a row.

However, the spotlight in this year’s young cricket season belongs to the 600 or more young cricketers who participated in the PSAL’s high school tournament, representing schools in all of the five boroughs.

Newcomers High School will undoubtedly hang their well-deserved PSAL banner from the rafters of their school’s gymnasium, but no one would be more proud to stand and stare aloft at the symbolic memento of winning the inaugural event, more so than Christina Cavaliere, the school’s gymnastics coach turned cricket coach.

It’s A Man’s World, or is it?
Christine Cavaliere stands about 5’ 5” tall, dwarfed by some of the lanky teenagers on her cricket squad sporting sweatshirts that proclaimed Newcomers Cricket was old school cricket. Cavaliere, on occasion appeared as if she was a deer caught in the headlights, but with a conscious presence that absorbed every aspect of the game of cricket that passed beneath her nostrils. Her championship run was steeped in old school type drills, a hunger for learning a new sport, a mother’s instinct for nurturing, a warm endearing smile, and a penchant for winning. Those are some of the traits that catapulted the Newcomers coach to stardom and the envy, but admiration of her fellow cricket coaches, some of whom came along with previous experience in the sport, having grown up in cricket-playing countries.

Cavaliere has been teaching physical education at Newcomers for five years and coaching the girls basketball team for three years, before accepting, according to her “…a natural challenge, to coach the boys cricket team.” According to Ms. Cavaliere, she has been watching the boys play cricket in the schoolyard after school, for the past two years. She said that, “The students demand for the team was so great I wanted to be involved.” Her availability to coach in the spring afforded her a chance to coach the squad.

Having never played or fully understood the sport of cricket Cavaliere approached the task similarly to coaching her girl’s basketball team. According to her, “Hard work, dedication, respect and the philosophy that ‘practice how you play’ were just some of the things I based the team on. I only had two weeks between the end of basketball season and the start of the cricket program. Therefore, I read books, watched various videos, and consulted with my team and captains if I had any questions.” The first-time cricket coach conditioned her cricketers, using what she had learned as a coach and physical education teacher.

Challenges Has Its Rewards

Coach Cavaliere or Ms. C as she is fondly referred to by her cricket players, reflected that coaching the team was easy, however, dealing with the busy game schedules, conflicts with the boys’ busy schedule of school work, family obligations, and work, was complicated. However, she somehow managed to successfully juggle it all, and was justly rewarded; holding aloft the championship trophy, knowing that she had just written herself into the annals of the PSAL sport pages history.

The 2009 PSAL cricket term will undoubtedly present a fresh set of challenges for the defending coach. Among them would be the burning desire of other coaches to top what Cavaliere did with a group of teenagers with a common interest, guiding them into an organized and focused group.

Newcomers will face many an opponent wanting to knock them off the championship perch, but coach Cavaliere is looking forward to coaching the boys next season. For her, it’s like family. However, she laments losing four of her major players due to age requirements or graduation. In addition, she fears losing a similar number of players due to transfers to other schools.

According to the coach, such a scenario is typical of Newcomers High School, because it is a new immigrant school, which transfers many of its students, once they become proficient in English.

The former Girls Varsity Basketball and high school basketball player lamented that having a sports program at Newcomers High School is always difficult since every year the school is forced to rebuild. However, despite the challenges, she vows that Newcomers will do its best to defend its cricket championship title.

In the championship match against John Adams High School, a team Newcomers met in the very first match of the season, Newcomers battled back only to have the match end on a technicality ruling by the officiating umpires. However, it did not take away from the almost undefeated season of the Newcomers. It was a moment that saw Coach Cavalier being drenched with water by her players, as she savored the championship moment.

It was a moment for which she was most happy for her boys. To see them reach all of their set goals was amazing, according to her. “We worked so hard all season long, and to finally prove to all the doubters that we are the best team was a very proud moment.”

The confident den mother to a testosterone-filled cricket squad believes that sports, in general teaches youngsters how to be good productive members of the community. She argues that being on a team that teaches communication, cooperation, leadership, confidence, and responsibility is an awesome experience. She adds, “That is why as a coach, you have to lead by example at all times.”

Newcomers High School led by example from start to finish. Dominic Gomes in accepting the prestigious high school athletic achievement award for scholastic and cricket accomplishments did so, on behalf of many other youngsters who yearn to play the sport of their forefathers in the land where newcomers are always welcomed, even if their sport takes three centuries to do so.
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