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Gats To Bats: Compton's Cricket Team Goes International

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The first U.S. cricket team to embark on an Australian tour, Compton's talented, "the Homies and the Popz," is gaining international fame with invitations to play and to give inspirational talks around the country and the planet.

Compton Cricket Club players have "sipped tea with Prince Edward at Buckingham Palace, played against Aborigines in the Australian outback, and swapped stories of violence-torn neighborhoods with residents of Belfast," according to the Associated Press.

"I tell people I play cricket and people automatically think it's croquet or an insect," said player Ricardo Cazarez. "I just tell them go look it up on YouTube." Decked out in cricket's obligatory whites, they boast batsmen, bowlers and wicket-keepers (batters, pitchers and catchers) like any other 11-member team, but they profess their passion for the sport in pure Compton style. Several players sport tattoos saying "cricket outta Compton" and "from gats to bats."

A few of the Homies have served jail terms, one was killed in a driveby shooting, two died in traffic accidents, and one player missed the Australia trip because he was on parole. Says British film producer Katy Haber, the team's manager, "With these guys, seeing is believing."

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"The genteel sport," huge worldwide thanks to the reaches of the old British Empire, is generally viewed "more as a novelty" in the United States. Known for its high level of sportsmanship and etiquette, arguing with the umpire and distracting opponents are banned practices. If missed by the umpire, players are expected to report their own outs. Players are also expected to "applaud good plays by opponents."

Ted Hayes founded the team after Haber invited him to play with the Beverly Hills & Hollywood Cricket Club in 1995. He believed the "sport's code of conduct contained larger life lessons of fair play and civility that could be a useful teaching tool."

The sport's etiquette and respect has helped team members "mature beyond the confines of urban street culture. They've learned to mingle with people of different backgrounds, gain self-confidence and control their tempers."

Ted's son, Isaac, who credits cricket with keeping him out of gangs, said "It takes guys who usually aren't kind to each other and makes them say `Hi, nice to see you again...It's helped me see the world is bigger than my backyard."

"I'm more social," said Emidio Cazarez, 28. "Growing up in Compton, you're always defensive. You don't talk to people."

Other local teams, which mostly comprise expats from cricket-playing nations, were flabbergasted when the Homies showed up on the field in the San Fernando Valley where the Los Angeles Social Cricket Alliance holds its matches. Their loud pre-game cheer of "Compton!" is quite a contrast to the chiseled British accents and singsong cadences of South Asian English that are more common among the alliance's eight clubs.

Hayes is organizing a cricket summer program at an Orange County middle school and will be training four Los Angeles police officers from the Counterterrorism and Special Operations Bureau. The bureau's outreach goal is to "eventually sponsor a cricket team as a way to build better relations with Muslim youth."