By John L. Aaron
What does a 42 year-old African-American mother of three from Atlanta, Georgia via Guyana and a 43 year-old man from Boca Raton, Florida via Pakistan, some 8,000+ miles apart with different ethnicities, religions, cultures, financial backgrounds, and ways of life, have in common? Not much, except for a strong passion and love of the sport of cricket.
Mahammad A. Qureshi, more familiarly known as MAQ has organized the MAQ T20 senior men’s tournament in several cities across the USA, with prize money numbering in the tens of thousands of dollars. Petula “Petal” Angela Samuels-Felicien, better known simply as Petal Samuels, is coordinating her second annual Atlanta Women’s Cricket tournament in Georgia this Memorial Day Weekend, with a modest first-prize purse of $2,000 and a second-prize of $1,000 it is far less than that of the MAQ T20 tournaments, and not on the same epic scale. However, the Atlanta women’s tournament now in its embryonic stages is gaining momentum and attention.
Atlanta is known as The Peach State for the superior flavor, texture and nutritious qualities of the fruit, and by extension, the fairer sex of the State are often referred to as Georgia Peaches. This weekend Atlanta is the preferred destination for quite a few other peaches from around the USA, all set to participate in what appears to be the only scheduled women’s cricket event this year in the USA.
It’s a tournament that’s badly needed, given the passion of the players and the paucity of opportunities for the sportswomen to exhibit their skills on the national or regional stages, much like that of their male counterparts.
Ms. Samuels must be complimented for her vision and being the driving force behind the fledgling Atlanta Women’s T20 Tournament. A cricketer herself, Ms. Samuels the tournament’s coordinator, has been playing the sport since age five. She says that her love of the sport was influenced by a couple of her high school friends in Guyana; Mark Ramjeet and Daniel Harricharran.
“While a resident of Atlanta, I noticed there was a lack of tournaments for women to participate in,” stated Ms. Samuels, who when asked what lessons she learned from having organized the first tournament of its kind last year in Atlanta, laughingly said, “I learned that you can’t play cricket without stumps. Last year, I totally forgot to secure stumps for the tournament. We scrambled frantically to locate some.”
When one speaks with Ms. Samuels, one quickly recognizes a sense of purpose and an earnestness to make a difference, and to impact the sport from the perspective of women players. It is what drives her to pursue the hosting of the tournament despite several setbacks and speed bumps, along the way.
The tournament will be held on astroturf wickets on Saturday and Sunday, May 26 and 27 at the Ronald McNair Middle School grounds located at 2800 Burdette Road, College Park, GA and have attracted teams from New York, New Jersey and Atlanta. Up to press time, it was not yet confirmed if a team from California would be participating in the tournament. However, from all indications, several current and former USA national women players, including ICC Americas 2012 Division One T20 MVP Nadia Gruny, will be participating in the two-day cricket tournament.
The tournament will also feature incentive prizes for individual performances. The prizes consist mainly of cricket gear that has been donated by local business as well as individual supporters of the sport among women in the USA.
Despite not having any national corporate sponsors at this time, Ms. Samuels, an Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay, Inc., is encouraged by the support received from local businesses and cricket enthusiasts. Although sanctioned by the national cricketing body, the tournament is not receiving any financial or other support from the national affiliate of the International Cricket Council.
However, despite the lack of logistical or financial support at the national level, Ms. Samuels is optimistic that the tournament will help grow the sport among young women in the USA. Recently elected the Regional Women’s Cricket Coordinator for the South East region, Ms. Samuels is steadfast in her belief that “…cricketers will use this opportunity to network and a fire will ignite in their hearts to join hands, minds, and hearts to develop cricket in their respective backyards, communities, and regions.” She added, “The Atlanta tournament is a testament that a tournament can be done at a grassroots level, without any help from any major sponsors.” She singled out Coach Brenda Cordner and Captain Debbie Ann Maxwell for their unselfish commitment to preparing the women of the participating Atlanta Pearls team.
The tournament coordinator also listed former Guyana and West Indies Test batsman Clayton Lambert, Jeffrey Humphrey, Vaughn Davis, Ryan Mahens, Denys Williams, and Lada Bedi among others, upon whom she can rely for assistance if she was stuck with getting the tournament off the ground. She stated that these gentlemen are believers and support the development of women’s cricket. She was ecstatic in her praise of Pat Baccas, an Atlanta-based radio talk-show host on the Internet streaming Future Movement Radio, who has given the tournament the opportunity to share its progress on a weekly basis on the radio, with participating players and officials calling in with updates on their teams’ preparation for the tournament. As the South East region’s women’s cricket coordinator, Ms. Samuels hopes that she can ignite the assistance and participation of willing and available cricketers and coaches within the region, who can assist at demonstration camps she hopes to host within the region.
This weekend’s tournament will kick off on Friday night with a welcome and reception party at The Comfort Inn Hotel located at 3601 North Desert Drive, East Point, GA. When asked if she will continue to coordinate the annual tournament now that she’s the regions women’s cricket coordinator, the hard-working Georgia peach replied with a winsome smile, “Ha! Ha! That’s why God has blessed me with two hands. One will be for the Atlanta Women’s T20 Tournament and the other for developing the sport among women in the region.”
As a women’s cricket coordinator, Ms. Samuels believes that age five is the perfect time to introduce girls to the sport, explaining that at that age, children are developing motor skills, eye and hand coordination, language development, as well as social and emotional skills. She added, “At (this) age, they can be cooperative and competitive.” She hopes to tap into the pool of approximately 21 women cricketers in the South East region, as well as the women coordinators of the leagues for a more accurate count. Ms. Samuels believe that certified coaches, accessible facilities, and funding, are the three key ingredients to building a successful program within her region. According to her, funding will give scope to achieve other areas.
A strong advocate for cricket development at all levels, Ms. Samuels when asked, are there any advantages to having some women play competitive cricket on predominantly male teams, responded, “Most definitely! The men will provide better competition because of the popularity of the sport among men. Some male teams are far superior because of the amount of time they spend training and practicing. Thus, they will share their experiences with the women. Some females can be stiff competition for the men.” She added, “I had an opportunity to play in a tournament with the males and it was fast-paced.”
When asked what reaction, if any, she had received so far in response to this year’s tournament? Ms. Samuels said, “The outpouring of support from my dear friends, family and the cricket community has been staggering. In addition to the cricket equipment suppliers who have donated cricket gear as gifts of encouragement for individual performances, officials, and the Atlanta Pearls team.”
The mother of Tesalon 21, Simeon 17, and Shariel 14, her “Three lambs,” as she refers to her children, said that they never complained when dinner was late or whether she was spending too much time in the office. “They encouraged me with hugs, kisses and cups of hot tea, to follow my dreams.”