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Vernon cricket club 'battling' with city for proper grounds

Cricket Club in Vernon is struggling to find proper grounds to play

Cricket, while seen as a tertiary sport within the Okanagan, is facing a period of exponential growth.

Harshana Panthiyage is the captain of the North Okanagan Cricket Club (NOCC), which he started in 2020, for players within the Vernon area.

“The history of the sport in the city goes back before World War One actually,” Panthiyage told The Morning Star. “They had a game played in Vernon and there used to be a ground there in 1920. Then 1930, after World War Two, there was another match, with Armstrong, Kelowna and Vernon. So, we are trying to carry that legacy.”

For several years, Panthiyage would make the three hour drive from his home in Salmon Arm to Kelowna to play cricket, as neither Salmon Arm nor Vernon had a proper cricket pitch. Now, the 37-year-old has a shorter commute, as he lives in Vernon now, but the same problem persists, with the lack of a proper facility.

“We do not have a ground right now,” he said. “We are using Kelowna’s, but most of our players have to commute. If we have a ground [here], it is going to be so much easier and useful for us."

Panthiyage said that they have had numerous requests from other players who are interested in starting up their own team, but the lack of a pitch is hindering their ability to expand.

When NOCC initially was created in 2020, it was a struggle to find enough players and the league (called the Perpetual Cup) had just three teams. Now, rosters are extremely competitive, and have expanded to six teams across the region, with the addition of two more squads coming next year.

“We don’t have the necessary resources right now (to add more teams) and it is really hard to book a ground in Kelowna.”

Panthiyage explained that there are just two official pitches for cricket in Kelowna, one at Parkinson, and one in Glenmore. The Parkinson ground will be getting demolished in the near future, as the whole area gets redeveloped.

While a cricket field is large in size, 450-500 feet in diameter, the pitch itself is what is important for proper play.

A pitch is an 80-by-15-foot concrete slab, and would include a two-centimetre thick green matting that would lay flush with the existing field, so it can be used for other sports.

The NOCC has reached out to the city of Vernon “numerous times” to request a field to install a pitch. 

“We are battling with the city to find the ground, but it is kind of a nightmare right now,” he said. “All we are asking for is a shared ground and 15 feet (to construct the concrete pad).”

The city, when asked about the requests by the NOCC, responded that “the addition of a dedicated cricket pitch is not part of the current Parks Master Plan.”

“When the Master Plan is reviewed, park enhancements will be considered,” said city spokesperson Carolyn Baldridge, although she did not specify that a cricket pitch would be considered. “The City encourages the North Okanagan Cricket Club to reach out to Recreation Services to accommodate play time at an appropriate field.”

When asked how Recreation Services can accommodate play time at an appropriate field, when there are no appropriate fields, the city responded that "Recreation Services is committed to working with these user groups to accommodate their activities within the available facilities."

"Playing on anything else but a pitch is also just completely different and not an accurate representation of the sport," said Panthiyage.

The city explained that there has been correspondence regarding the NOCC's request for a dedicated pitch, but would not divulge specific information regarding their communication.

Salmon Arm recently approved and installed a pitch on a city field. The costs of installation was paid for by the Salmon Arm Cricket Club and the NOCC is offering the same deal.

“We will pay for it,” said Panthiyage. “This is not for us, this is for the future generations.”

NOCC is a non-profit, and foots all of the costs themselves, which includes bats, wickets, travel, jerseys and field costs.

"We have a six-to-seven-person committee funding it,” Panthiyage said. “We have to travel so much to play, and the sport can get expensive."

Panthiyage immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in 2010. He was able to find a community of like-minded Sri Lankans, and the current NOCC team has 90 per cent Sri Lankans on it. 

Cricket continues to grow across the country, and the recent inclusion of Canada into the T20 Cricket World Cup for the first time ever has brought about more publicity. 

“Now, when we play a match, sometimes people come up to us and ask about it," said Panthiyage. "All we need is a few grounds, and we can play cricket. Then, we can bring more teams to play and we can build some new teams everywhere." 

A new Parks Master Plan is expected to be created and completed for 2025.

Bowen Assman

About the Author: Bowen Assman

I joined The Morning Star team in January 2023 as a reporter. Before that, I spent 10 months covering sports in Kelowna.
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