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Chris looks back at his memorable journey

Ketton Cricket Club’s CHRIS MAINSTONE was recently awarded a Community Champion award for his sterling service to the Rutland club.

The Community Champion is a joint initiative between The Cricketer and MCC, which recognises grass roots dedication to the sport.

Mainstone wowed the judging panel with his relentless commitment to the junior section at Ketton over the past 14 years. Here he looks back to his memorable journey . . .

Some of the teams competing at this year's girls festival. (3295082)
Some of the teams competing at this year's girls festival. (3295082)

I first visited Ketton in 1999 after moving to the area and, as for so many newcomers back then, my first experience of the locals was the friendly face of Ray Davies in the village shop, a lovely man much missed by all who knew him.

After walking around the village I was served a pint of Riding Bitter by Mary in the Northwick Arms and the process of being smitten with Ketton was complete.

After our move to Ketton from High Wycombe, I was too busy with our young children to play cricket, but it wasn’t long before my son Nick became old enough to hold a little bat and we were straight up to the sports complex looking for some coaching.

At that time Ketton CC were putting on Saturday morning training sessions but struggling to staff them. I soon started getting involved and, at the end of the 2005 season, I was asked to do it formally along with my good friend Simon Forster.

I looked across at the amazing junior coaching set up in Ketton Football Club, led by the dear departed Ray Skellet and including David Bird who ran my son’s team devotedly with Mark Hudson for so many years, and I knew I had to get stuck in.

We realised that entering teams into the local junior cricket league and through that mobilising the Dads of the village in a family-based environment, was the key to rebuilding village interest in cricket.

We got to work straight away, entering a side into the local winter indoor league organised by the irrepressible Henry Roberts.

We made strong links with our vibrant Ketton School where our children went, then under the auspices of the wonderful Mrs Aspinall.

The following year saw a Ketton Under-11 team in the Border Counties Youth League with me and Simon Forster being joined by Simon Nairn and Nick Kennett in the management team. The next year we added an Under-10 team run by Graham Young, Miles Potter and Mark Stephenson.

The emergence of a strong junior cricket initiative was enough to lure Peter Shakeshaft out of retirement to look after the square and outfield, ably assisted by another Ketton sporting stalwart Brian Thompson.

At the end of the 2008 season John McAvoy was cajoled into running an Under-9s team, assisted by Nick Dooley, and our existing squads moved up the age groups so that in 2009 we had league teams at Under-9, Under-11 and Under-13 (each squad consisting of two year groups).

The following year Dave Walpole and Steve Bird decided to take the plunge with an Under-15 squad so that Mat and Will Bird and their friends could get involved, which took us to around 60 kids across four age groups.

Ketton CC's U11s after a match against Burghley Park (3295075)
Ketton CC's U11s after a match against Burghley Park (3295075)

Soon after Craig Hawksworth slotted into the set-up, starting to manage an Under-11 squad with Arnie Palmer and Neil Durno in alternate years, and we were overflowing with great management teams.

Through all this we were greatly supported by Ketton’s White Bread Trust, led by village legend Vic Henry and later by Andrew McGilvray.

The Trust was set up many years ago to assist the people of the village and in modern times they have focused on helping resident children to achieve their full potential.

They provided funds for team strips, ECB coaching and first aid courses, travel expenses for kids to attend country trials and training, and in 2010 funded the purchase of a bowling machine which revolutionised practice sessions for the older squads.

The Lord’s Taverners also played a crucial role in getting us started, providing team kit bags for all our squads.

As the junior section grew I wanted to set up something that brought all of our volunteers together in a social group, and provided opportunities for older guys in the village to reconnect with the club.

The Ketton Casuals were born, a social cricket team playing on Friday evenings.

Some of our junior coaches were accomplished cricketers but others were complete novices, and the Casuals provided a means by which everyone could discover or rediscover the game, support each other and enhance our junior coaching.

We were very soon up to 25 Casuals members, with everybody guaranteed at least a game every other week. Everyone had to bowl two overs in the match.

We established a list of fixtures with neighbouring clubs and works teams, to help reconnect Ketton CC with the local cricket community and foster good community relations.

Each year we sent boys and girls off to Leicestershire and Rutland County trials and many of them continued into the winter training programme, some going on to represent the county.

It could be a struggle to persuade parents to travel into Leicester regularly from so far away – a couple of girls took the alternative option of representing Huntingdonshire.

In time juniors started to graduate into senior cricket and we needed youth-centred opportunities for them.

Ketton girls who played at this years Girls festival. (3295077)
Ketton girls who played at this years Girls festival. (3295077)

I got together with our ex-juniors and talked to them about what they wanted. There was no opportunity for youth-focused senior cricket at the time because of a lack of adult volunteers, so I set the lads up in the Peterborough Midweek T20 league playing as the Ketton Colts.

The Peterborough league, led by the likes of Ash Patel, was (and still is) very supportive of youth players and welcomed the Colts with open arms.

My son Nick and his friend Harrison Miles took on the captaincy of the team, assisted in the first couple of seasons by the odd adult here and there. The team soon became self-sufficient and well-able to handle themselves.

This team was (and still is) central to retaining youth players and encouraging them through into weekend league cricket.

Freed from managing a junior team as my charges graduated, I turned my attention to the sustainability of the junior section, to ensure that we didn’t lose the wonderful facility for local children that we had built and that the club continued to have a plentiful supply of juniors coming through into the senior section.

It was clear that we needed to push out in two directions: firstly to provide younger children with opportunities to join in, and secondly to deal with the lack of girls in the junior section.

Around 2012 I established a ‘development squad’ for six and seven-year-olds, and a girls-only squad to create a more enticing environment for girls to join in the fun.

I had a pretty manic couple of years running both these squads on Saturday mornings, but it was great fun and I had a bit more energy then.

It soon became apparent that even younger kids, four or five years of age, were desperate to play, so we set up a ‘mini’s’ squad with a couple of the Dads (Will Hattam and Duncan Ainscough) to give them some fun and prepare them for the Development Squad

The girls squad was a great success and we soon had 20 girls aged 10 to 15. It was such a shock to me to have junior players who listened to instructions and followed them.

I was soon setting up girls friendlies with other clubs who were trying to set up girls teams at the time, and in 2013 I trialled the first of many girls one-day festivals.

The first one featured Oakham, Uppingham, Twycross, Narborough & Littleworth and two Ketton teams, and we never looked back.

Nikky Miles helped out with the coaching, aided by Lauren Bullimore. Dads of girls, including Julian Watkins, Alistair Pike, Paul Mahoney and Jonathan Smith, all chipped in with coaching and team management and it just snowballed.

Before long we were also arranging friendly womens matches against clubs like Oundle and Burghley Park, and getting involved with the Leicestershire and Rutland Cricket Board in their efforts to establish the Leicestershire Lightning girls league.

By 2014 we were up to around 100 juniors and the ground was swarming with kids on Saturday mornings.

The annual junior awards events, with their paired wicket competitions for all ages and giant hog-roasts, were regularly attended by 200 people.

The junior section was finally at a size which I felt was sustainable and I started devoting a fair bit of my time to ‘plate-spinning’, making sure gaps didn’t appear in the volunteer base and that we had a steady supply of new ‘Dad’ recruits along with their kids at the young end of the junior section.

This is Ketton CC Under 11s together with Barrowden Under 11s after their derby match this year. (3295071)
This is Ketton CC Under 11s together with Barrowden Under 11s after their derby match this year. (3295071)

At the same time older youth players were starting to get interested in becoming coaches themselves, looking at the adult role models in both the cricket and football clubs and keen to give something back.

My son Nick and Harrison Miles started to manage girls training and matches, Sam McAvoy got involved in coaching the squad of his younger brother, and older lads started to spring up at coaching sessions everywhere.

Lauren Bullimore and Katie Brooker started to take a more active role in helping with girls sessions and matches. The junior section and the Casuals and Colts teams felt like inseparable parts of a machine, each supporting and dependent on the other.

Around this time I was starting to creak at the seams, and other volunteers were getting concerned and wanting to do even more to help out.

John McAvoy volunteered to take over the big role as junior section coordinator, Simon Forster (already club treasurer across junior and senior sections) got immersed in the committee again focusing on improving governance and process, Matt Walker and Paul Mahoney took on committee roles to try and ensure junior and community interests were properly represented within the club as a whole.

We established a group of Casuals captains to rotate team responsibilities, the Colts started to look after themselves completely, Duncan Ainscough and Will Hattam took Development Squad duties off my hands, and mums and dads started to take on more responsibilities for arranging the girls and women for matches and running teams in festivals.

All this allowed me to scale down to something more manageable, focusing on remaining development areas including growing girls and womens cricket and ensuring progression of youth players in senior cricket.

At the end of the 2016 season we had never looked in better shape due to the continued efforts of a host of community volunteers, not only the coaching staff but also Pete Baker and Martin Radley who had taken on preparing batting strips in recent years, and the parents who helped out with food at junior events and ferried kids around to away matches.

Thanks to Arnie Palmer stepping in to run the Under-15s we had a full complement of league squads, with the production line of younger squads in full sway – Tim Harris and Paul Mahoney taking their squad into the Under-13s helped by Roger Shepherd, behind that John McAvoy returned to the Under 11s squad with Matt Walker and Steve Jordan to take their sons and friends through the system, and Marcus Welford taking on the Under 9 squad with Murray Scott behind that.

The Development and Mini’s squads had volunteer coaches in place and future age groups were set fair to have management teams to take them through the junior leagues.

Ketton CC Under 11s after playing Orton Park this year. (3295073)
Ketton CC Under 11s after playing Orton Park this year. (3295073)

Other than having my own children, I have never experienced anything so life-affirming as volunteering in junior cricket and helping Ketton CC come home to the local community I love so much.

I can’t thank enough all those who have made this wonderful journey possible, so many of whom have become close friends in the process, bound together by a shared passion for inclusive and family-friendly cricket and mutually supportive community-living.

I continue to volunteer at the club – I’m slowing up but still trying to establish a sustainable girls and womens set-up, playing Casuals cricket and vicariously enjoying watching the Ketton Colts becoming the club’s first team and showing their mettle.

I would encourage anybody reading this to get involved in our beautiful sport: coaching, playing, umpiring, scoring, or just going to watch.

It’s a lovely game with formats suitable for all ages, abilities and lifestyles, girls and boys, women and men. There is a club in your village or town just waiting to hear from you, desperate for volunteers to help build their activities and offer more to their local community.

Visit the ECB’s play-cricket website to find out more about them and to get in touch with your local club.

Like many other nearby clubs, Ketton CC is committed to active participation by the whole local community in a family-friendly atmosphere, so whoever you are you’ll find a warm welcome.

Footnote: Around 2016 the long-standing internal tensions at Ketton CC over club governance and ethos started to mount and, after the 2017/18 annual meeting, a breakaway group of seniors established a rival club in Ketton this season (Ketton Sports CC).

The situation created at Pit Lane was felt to be untenable by the Ketton CC committee and as a result we have been playing our home matches in Barrowden village this season, following kind invitations from both Wakerley and Barrowden CC and Empingham CC to host us.

I sincerely hope the problems at Pit Lane will be resolved so that we can return to normality next season.

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