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Dakota scores dandy cricket practice facility

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Dakota Collegiate will soon be helping young batsmen hone their skills in the venerable game of cricket. Next spring and summer, kids from the southeast part of the city will be able to practise in two new batting cages at the St. Vital high school.

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Dakota Collegiate will soon be helping young batsmen hone their skills in the venerable game of cricket. Next spring and summer, kids from the southeast part of the city will be able to practise in two new batting cages at the St. Vital high school.

Bowlers, batsmen, wicket keepers and hitting it for six -- the new public image of Dakota Collegiate.

The massive south St. Vital high school is believed to be the first public school in Manitoba to get a spiffy cricket practice facility.

Next spring and summer, kids from throughout the city's southeast will be stepping into two new batting cages to hone their batting skills, said Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital).

"I drove by Dakota Collegiate this past summer and saw guys playing cricket. I thought, 'I've never seen this before.'Ç" Dakota grad Mayes said. "When I was a kid, if you'd have ever said cricket in St. Vital, I would have scoffed."

Mayes credited the school's volunteer cricket coach Keith James with getting the project going. Mayes and MLA Nancy Allan (NDP-St. Vital) have come up with $30,000 in government grants, and Cricket Manitoba and parents are fundraising another $15,000.

'I've had such an unbelievable reaction here (at Dakota Collegiate), it's wonderful... The kids are very respectable and very coachable.'

-- volunteer cricket coach Keith James

James said cricket is not only a passion for many newcomers to Canada, but also helps players socialize with and connect with their own and many other communities.

"I've had such an unbelievable reaction here (at Dakota Collegiate), it's wonderful," James said.

"The kids are very respectful and very coachable. Where there are pockets of cricket within the public school system, the game is embraced enthusiastically, with students and teachers alike bellowing the traditional 'Howzat?' appeal to the umpire for an out," James added.

"There's an enormous interest at Fort Richmond Collegiate," James said.

There are also programs at Gordon Bell High School, Kildonan East Collegiate, Maples Collegiate and Sisler High School, he said.

Much of the northwest school interest is driven by Seven Oaks School Division trustee Derek Dabee, James's long-time buddy from Winnipeg's cricket community.

"They've got the Elwick School grounds for a pitch, he pointed out.

Assiniboine Park has both cricket pitches and batting cages.

Up to now, there's been nothing in the southeast, said James, and in the southwest, "There is a little pitch at Waverley Heights Community Centre -- that one gets dominated by soccer and baseball."

Mayes said the facility will be built at the northeast part of the campus, and will not eat up any of the current playing field.

"It would be like a giant batting cage. The whole thing would be fenced in," which is good news for the school, the parking lot, and nearby streets and houses, he said.

Dakota Collegiate is a far more diverse place than when he graduated in 1980, Mayes acknowledged, and that includes the kindergarten to Grade 8 Victor Mager School across the street -- both have many cricket-enthused new Canadians in their student bodies.

"There's four or five schools (whose students) can walk over there," Mayes said.

Louis Riel School Division superintendent Duane Brothers said the division was happy to work with the project.

Division facilities manager Peter Kolba has been working with the school, the parents and Cricket Manitoba, said Brothers.

"As of right now, Brian Mayes has indicated that he can find funds to put toward this school/community initiative and the parent group is to raise some money," the superintendent said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2013 A7

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