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Lions tame the Clippers in annual migrant workers cricket game
The Vineland Lions defeated the Niagara Clippers for just the third time in over 20 years June 9 in NOTL. The annual game is a highly anticipated event for migrant workers and the community. RICHARD WRIGHT

For only the third time in the last 20 years, the Vineland Lions defeated the Niagara Clippers in the annual migrant workers’ cricket game on June 9 in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The end result was a 158-114 decision for the Lions, but despite the surprising loss for the home side, the main goal was still achieved, say local participants, organizers and civic leaders — which was community bonding.

Even rain delays didn’t put a damper on the fun. 

“This is a game that brings the community together,” said NOTL coach Elisha Prophet Steele. “It is really nice when all the people come out to watch the game. We get a lot of support, sometimes over 500 spectators.”

The crowd numbers didn’t reach 500 this time, likely due to the weather, but it still was a big draw, with a bus load of fans arriving just before the first pitch.

A number of sponsors’ event tents lined the perimeter of the field and there was food, refreshments and lots of Caribbean music all throughout.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa was among the members of the crowd, offering opening words and taking in the game from the sidelines.

“This is something that is really celebrating our diversity and our temporary workers who come here and enjoy this country and work really hard for us,” he said. 

“It is a good chance for them to relax a little bit from a really tough job. And it is a good time for Niagara-on-the-Lakers to get a sense of other cultures and maybe learn something about another sport.”

One man who doesn’t need a lesson on the sport is Aziz Anjum.

The St. Catharines businessman, who owns Popeyes Louisiana Chicken and Baskin Robbins franchises in the Garden City, has been an avid supporter of this cricket tournament over the years.

He provides almost everything the players on both sides need, from the food, ice cream, uniforms and equipment to an actual jute (the mound-like surface that pitchers and batsmen stand on).

“It is a love of cricket,” said the Pakistani national. “I do this from the heart. I love cricket. I heard about this program and I have been doing it for the past 10 years now.”

He has other motives for his support as well. 

“These guys, they are our guests,” he said, referring to the migrant workers. “So we have to take care of them.”

Others obviously agree. 

Phil’s Your Independent Grocer and Bikes for Farmworkers in Virgil, along with Gateway Community Church and Bethany Mennonite Church, all stepped forward to be major sponsors.

Nancy Howse-King is a former board member of the Caribbean Workers Outreach Program — the non-profit that helps organize the game annually — and has an opposing view to the lord mayor and Steele on how the game should be received by the community.

It isn’t so much a time to concentrate on diversity or even bringing people together, she said.

Rather, she added, it should simply be all about the players and bringing enjoyment to them.

I think it is more for their pleasure and fun. I don’t think it is solving a problem. I think it is what (the players) love the most and they want to have a friendly competition and Vineland offers that for them.”

The match, she added, should be treated like any normal Canadian sporting event.

“You know, you go to the event, you look for your fans and you put on your best show.”

Indeed it was well-received by everyone who took part or came to watch.

“This brings the love in the community,” said Steele. “We love what’s going on around here.”

As for his team’s inability to maintain its dominance over Vineland, Steele offered a well-meaning jab in response.

“For winning for so many years, I will say that I am no way offended by them for winning that game,” he said.

“If we win every year, they will not come back.”

wright@niagaranow.com

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