PATERSON, NJ - Growing up in St, John, Antigua, Keith Henry was a wicket keeper for Faith and Hope High School. Now 61, the acclaimed cricketer once played before a crowd of over 5,000 people at the Antigua Recreation Ground, the national stadium of Antigua and Barbuda.
The now Paterson resident, and still passionate cricket lover, was one of over 50 people, led by Mayor Andre Sayegh and Third Ward Councilman Bill McKoy to celebrate the completed renovations, and reopening of, the Cricket Clubhouse in Eastside Park.
Initially played in England in the 16th century, the sport has been practiced in America longer than baseball, Sayegh, a self-proclaimed historian, told the crowd.
“This day is 50 years overdue,” Sayegh said. “Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world. This is not only good for the sport of cricket, it is good for the city of Paterson.” The facility also boasts a concession stand and bathrooms.
Sayegh credited the persistent efforts of his former council colleage McCoy, a native of Jamaica, in seeing the completion of the project come to fruition.
Members of the Paterson team, the Wanderers Sports Club of the Garden State Cricket League, were on hand for the celebration. The squad’s games are played on the field directly adjacent to the clubhouse from April through October. This past season the Wanderers were crowned champions of the 17-team league.
Brothers Ben and Tim Dauti of TNS Construction, from Stanhope, directed the renovations.
“The building was in bad shape,” Ben Dauti, of TNS Construction, the firm hired by the City of Paterson to complete the renovations, said. “A new roof was needed as well as a whole new drainage system. The top floor was completely renovated and 2,000 bricks were replaced. There are now ADA accessible bathrooms. There are new sidewalks, new doors, and new windows.”
State of the art lighting accompanies sturdy locks and barred windows and doors to prevent vandalism. Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale and Chief Troy Oswald, who were also in attendance, both pledged to keep the building in pristine condition and the area safe, according to Sayegh.
Carmeleta Swaby, Monica Anderson, Beverly Burrell, and Annette Ramsey all grew up in Jamaica and played the sport throughout their childhoods.
“We used an orange juice box and formed it into a ball, like a coconut, to use for play,” Anderson said. “We got together and had a great time. It’s kind of like kids getting together in America and playing sandlot baseball.”
Also at the event was Errol Kerr, also a native Jamaican and former member of the Paterson Board of Education.
“I played a lot of cricket growing up in my home country,” the familiar Silk City figure reminisced. “In high school, I was the equivalent of all-state. However, now, at the age of 65, I am too old to play. The sport is too physically demanding.”
Both current and past players shared that those interested in attending a cricket game for the first time should first be informed about the rules of the game and the length of play. Competition for a typical contest may take up to six hours.
Michael Powell, Paterson’s Economic Development Director, The project was funded by $406,000 in federal dollars and a $260,000 grant from the County of Passaic and the city’s Department of Public Works also participated in the project.