Find out how cricket has become a refuge fromgang culturein the unlikely setting of South Central Los Angeles.
Sunday, September 18, 2011 - 20:28

Compton is one of the Los Angeles' roughest neighbourhoods; renowned for gang violence and poverty; but it's also becoming well known for its cricket.

In the most unlikely of settings, a group of young people have turned their back on crime to form Compton Cricket Club and hit back at the gang culture in South Central LA.

Yaara Bou Melhem catches up with the 'Homies and the Popz' in the United States and follows them on tour to Australia, as they travel the world inspiring young people from all walks of life.

WATCH - Find out about their journey from 'bullets to balls'.

PHOTO GALLERY - Take a look at some photos from the team's Australian tour, as they faced seven matches in twelve days.

EXTRA - Find out more about Compton Cricket Club and its tour of Australia by following the links under 'resources' on the right-hand side of the page.

REPLAY - Earlier in the year, Yaara profiled Mark Bradford, who's challenging the stereotypes of South Central LA through his art. Click to replay her story, LA Laid Bare.


Photos: Compton Cricket Club/Kimberley Low



As the weather warms up and the footy season draws to a close, get ready for the beautiful sound of leather striking willow. Yes, the cricket season is nearly upon us. But if a team of former gang members from the US have their way, cricket may sound very different this summer. Here's Yaara Bou Melhem.

REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem

A game of cricket is the last thing you would expect to see in Los Angeles. The Compton Cricket Club is taking on one of the few local leagues. They are committed to the game and their club but for these cricketers, life may well have turned out very differently. Katy Haber is a co-founder of the team.

KATY HABER, CO-FOUNDER COMPTON CRICKET CLUB: They are unique and innovative. This is inner-city kids from Compton, kids that were on the verge of or were dabbling in gang activity, who used cricket as a tool to get themselves out of the environment that was eventually going to be lethal for them.

And now these unlikely cricketers are intent on spreading their message that cricket can save lives. And this is where the team comes from - Compton, one of Los Angeles' roughest neighbourhoods. Cricketer Sergio 'Panales' drives me around.

SERGIO 'PANALES', CRICKETER: Right up inside here. That's where the dude got shot.


SERGIO 'PANALES': The police officer. Dude this is like two, three days ago. This is... These are the projects? This is just one of them.

The team captain, Emidio, has lived in Compton all his life. This potholed park is where they first began practicing some 15 years ago. With so little available to young people in Compton, he says it is no wonder they turn to crime.

EMIDIO, TEAM CAPTAIN: You hang around with a bunch of young knuckleheads, somebody's gonna come up with a plan and you're going to execute it and it's probably not going to be a good idea.

Today, the Compton boys have swapped LA's mean streets for something more genteel - a boutique hotel in Sydney's Eastern suburbs, part of an Australian tour. Though for Sergio, there are some injury worries.

SERGIO 'PANALES': Right now, I'm having a difficulty with my sweat glands under my armpit. I'm trying to get some medicine so I can get well and try to go home in one piece rather than going home with one arm. Aah, it hurts!

Meanwhile, Isaac Hayes is getting some work done on his arm.

ISAAC HAYES, COMPTON CRICKET CLUB: This tattoo is going to be really monumental to me. This tattoo is going to be really special.

Isaac Hayes wants a permanent reminder that he had to make some critical choices early - between an AK-47 and a cricket bat.

ISAAC HAYES: Cricket actually caught me at that breaking point. That was the point where I was really young. They had thrown me out of school, my principal told my mother right there in front of my face that your son is going to be dead by the age of 21. Well, not to tell my age but I'm over 21. You go through life's struggles and cricket helped me see the world. It took me overseas to England and it helped me. Something just clicked and I realised, damn, I want to live.

Today, we are on our way to a match with Sydney private school students. The team has been attracting a lot of media attention, something they don't mind sending up and they're a little anxious about their opponents.

TYLER: You're playing against people who have been playing all their lives. We got it like in the middle.

EMIDIO: Without coaching, without the proper fields.

After meeting the locals, it is time to do their thing. Captain Emidio Cazarez leads the charge.

EMIDIO: I will be opening batsman. See what happens. Wish me luck.

The captain is soon back in the pavilion and he is not happy.

EMIDIO: I got a big duck. That's what I got. Big crappy duck.

Now it is up to Isaac and he is never lost for words.

ISAAC HAYES: I'm going up right now. Gonna see what we got. These boys are good and we are dropping like flies right now.

They are dismissed quickly. The 11th graders decide to go a little easy on Compton team as Isaac turns his hand to bowling.

ISAAC HAYES: I got the feeling that I'm gonna get you out. I called it! I called it!

Playing a private school team on Sydney's leafy North Shore is one thing but these homies feel more at home at their next stop - the inner-city suburb of Redfern, Sydney's Indigenous heartland.

ISAAC HAYES: That sign right there, that flag right there. That's the one I'm representing right here on my wrist. I want them to realise that we are here for them. We recognise their cause, their struggle. It's similar to the one that we have where I come from in America, LA.

BOY: You like bowling or batting?


BOY: So you're an all-rounder.

ISAAC HAYES: I'm working on it, I'm working on it. Trying to bring that sport out to America.

BOY: Get all the young fellas playing it, ay?

ISAAC HAYES: Exactly. You know, we come from the hood so where we come from, we were doing what it is we do. Start playing cricket. Realise there's other things besides tripping in the streets.

Staying on the straight and narrow is a message that is well understood on the Block.

MAN: Have you heard of Anthony Mundine? The man!

Now it is time for cricketers to learn about some of the local role models.

MAN: That's Anthony Mundine. That's his father.

The Block might be very different to LA but there are some things Isaac finds very familiar.

ISAAC HAYES: I saw three cops running down the block a minute ago, cop cars. We standing in front of that beautiful flag over there and they want to stop and stare. You know what, I think I'm home.

But when the police do turn up, they are certainly more friendly than their counterparts in LA.

MAN: My daughter - His sister ran the 100 metres hurdles at the Olympics in 2004. She went to Greece and she won the gold medal.


After chilling with the locals, the cricketers feel inspired.

ISAAC HAYES: We have a song that represents where we come from to where we are now. That is, from the streets to playing cricket. From bullets, 2 balls, 2 cricket bats... from the streets to concrete and grass and mats. We are playing cricket! Cricket!

Back in LA, the practice continues. And already, there is another tour in the offing.

KATY HABER: Out of the blue, I got this email from the Birmingham Anti-gang Unit in England, having seen all our press, saying 'How about a tour of England. We need your help."

For now they play social games but the team has big plans.

KATY HABER: You know, our dream would be to have enough sponsorship so that they could then become the Harlem Globetrotters of cricket and take what they have learned into the inner city. Recruit new kids, go to schools.

And it is Isaac Hayes' cricket rap that may finance the dream.

ISAAC HAYES: Some of it is going towards building a cricket team for the kids.

He says he is releasing his first album in the next couple of weeks.

ISAAC HAYES: So I think it will do OK. I hope. It better or I'm shooting guns again! What do you want? Guns? Or would you rather I play cricket? Just kidding. Buy it. Just kidding - or am I?

YALDA HAKIM: Rap seems to be taking over the world. First Gaza, now it has invaded cricket. And those funky players from the Compton Cricket Club have sent us photos from their tour Down Under. Check it out online on our website.










Original Music composed by Vicki Hansen

18th September 2011