MORRISVILLE — Once a year, 11-year-old Raj Vyas travels 2,200 miles from his home in Arizona to Morrisville to compete and train with the Triangle Cricket League.
The league, which plays most of its local games in Morrisville, has attracted national attention as a hotspot for youth cricket.
And Morrisville is feeling the effects, as the sport brings plenty of out-of-town visitors who stay at local hotels, eat at restaurants and shop at businesses.
Last month, the league hosted the USA Cricket Association’s tournament for kids under 13, drawing teams from California and New Jersey. About 400 people attended the three-day tournament, said Parth Patel, treasurer of the Triangle Cricket League.
The league has hosted at least one national tournament each year for the past two years.
“There are two purposes to tournaments,” Patel said. “It creates awareness about Morrisville. Two, the kids are exposed to teams from other areas. It gives them a chance to check their level of competitiveness.”
Cricket adds about $35,000 a year to Morrisville’s coffers through park lease agreements and rental fees, said Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Allen.
The Triangle Cricket League has spent $20,000 to $25,000 over the past year for field improvements such as grading and AstroTurf at some of the town’s parks, Allen said.
The direct economic impact from the out-of-town visitors who participated in the three-day tournament this month is about $17,000, said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, a division of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
That number reflects hotel stays, and restaurant and retail purchases of the 25 out-of-town athletes, Dupree said.
It doesn’t take into account the other 25 local athletes who may have eaten out or went shopping.
“The economic impact can be significant, especially in a youth tournament where you’re not just bringing in an athlete but they’re also going to be accompanied by their families and friends,” said Hill Carrow, CEO of the Triangle Sports Commission, a nonprofit group that promotes Olympic and amateur sports.
“Sports tends to be one of the fastest growing areas of tourism,” he added.
Morrisville’s elected leaders will likely consider the financial benefits of cricket in the next few months as they pursue up to $3 million in Wake County tourism funding.
The money could be used to build a regulation-size cricket field at the future 25-acre RTP Park off Church Street.
The Town Council initially considered four options for the money, which towns will compete for through an application process. Potential projects were RTP Park, Cedar Fork District Park, a Civil War memorial park or a multipurpose sports complex.
But the council whittled down the options to two – Morrisville could spend the potential money to add parking, seating and an irrigation system at RTP Park, and to buy the adjoining property, or it could enter a private-public partnership to build a sports complex with an ice rink and volleyball courts.
Councilmen Steve Rao and Steve Diehl said they want to focus on the RTP Park project.
“This is a competitive bid process,” Diehl said. “It behooves us to have something unique. Other towns have historical complexes and athletic (fields). RTP Park is unique to Morrisville.”
The field would be the first regulation-size cricket field in the Triangle.
It would also serve as a multipurpose field for other sports, like soccer.
A need for more fields
Morrisville already has three cricket fields at Cedar Fork District Park and Shiloh Park, but they’re not enough to keep up with demand for the sport, according to Triangle Cricket League organizers.
More than 600 players participate in the league.
One of the program’s biggest draws has been clinics and workshops hosted by professional players.
Well-known left-handed cricket batsman Alvin Kallicharran, who splits his time between London and the Raleigh area, became involved with the program four years ago.
Kallicharran is the reason Raj Vyas’ father is willing to fly across the country.
“Alvin was my childhood hero,” Chirag Vyas said. “It’s a blessing my son gets to work with him.”
The Triangle Cricket League also offers something the Vyas family can’t get in the Phoenix area: a youth cricket league.
While many states have thriving adult cricket leagues, youth programs are less common. In Morrisville, 150 kids have played the sport over three seasons.
“This place could be the place for cricket,” Kallicharran said.