Calgary cricketers getting the boot

MICHAEL PLATT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Rev. John Gishler wants his family's park back.

"I've always joked, if cricket can't be played at Riley Park, then it's mine -- I'm the eldest son," said Gishler, an Anglican priest, and the grandson of Ezra Hounsfield Riley.

And it would be funny, if Gishler didn't have a valid point.

Riley, it seems, donated land for the century-old park on the stipulation the green space be used for cricket -- and for the past 99 years, the bowlers have kept his legacy alive.

But now, due to stray cricket balls and a wading pool full of children with unprotected heads, the city has called time on elite-level play in the park, saying the matches must move to the northeast.

As of this month, Premier and Division One cricket will no longer be allowed because "the level of risk and liability is unacceptable," according to a letter from the Parks Department.

For Riley's descendents, as well as the 46 local teams using the park, cricket should be given priority, because it's tradition, and because that's what Ezra Riley wanted.

While no document survives to prove cricket's claim over the coveted Kensington greenspace, Gishler says his grandfather left no doubt that it was wickets first, wading pools second.

"There's an unwritten principle -- that's the way he wanted it," said Gishler.

Rather than end cricket or close the Riley wading pool, a popular feature which dates back to the 1920s, Rev. Gishler suggests both sides learn to compromise.

"I'd like to see them work out some kind of compromise -- there must be a way to protect the children. Or maybe we could all learn to live with the fact life is dangerous. It's a very small risk, but a risk you have to take," he said.

Compromise and logic are unlikely to win this battle, with fear of a lawsuit blinding the bureaucracy to possible solutions, including a net over the pool, or better fences to contain the rare sixer.

Instead of maintaining a proud Calgary tradition, it's easier to send a potentially dangerous game to a far-flung field in the community of Martindale.

That the elite cricket ban will also destroy one of Calgary's best opportunities for different ethnic groups to mingle in an inner-city setting has been totally overlooked.

This is about safety, not culture.

Never mind there's never been an injury in more than 100 years of play, and the only major gripe was the result of a ball hitting a condo. If there's a minuscule chance of litigation, the only solution is to call the game off.

Alberta Cricket Association spokesman Gordon Oakes says the city's refusal to look at new fences, when the league has offered to share the cost, is frustrating.

"When the safety of children is in question, a game is nowhere near as important, but this is like kicking the Stampede out of Stampede Park," said Oakes.

As well as higher fencing, the cricket association offered to erect a net over the pool, to catch stray balls.

The written answer from Kurt Hanson, Calgary's director of Recreation -- no.

"Netting will not resolve the over all risks identified and would be considered counter to open public park principles, so netting will not be erected," wrote Hanson.

As well, the city says it isn't kicking all cricket players out, just the elite players capable of hitting balls well out of bounds.

"It comes down to the fact parks are dynamic and they change with time, and we're responding to the changing needs of Calgarians," said Kyle Ripley, manager of Parks Planning and Development.

Whether it's better equipment or players, Ripley said the number of stray balls is increasing every year.

"It happens frequently, that balls are crossing over the fencing, and we've already raised the fence two times in five years," he said.

Thus, despite 90 years as neighbours, the wading pool and Calgary's top cricket league can no longer share the same park. Fear of litigation is the final answer.

Given the history of Riley Park, and Ezra Hounsfield Riley's request that the park always be used for cricket, there's only one question left.

Is the city pulling the drain on the right activity?

MICHAEL.PLATT@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos