Cricket: Junior league chief retires after 42 years of playing the generation game
BOB Cherry has played a long innings as secretary of the Kidsgrove and District Junior League, but after more than four decades of service he has elected to finally draw stumps.
Cherry has served cricket with distinction as a player, umpire and administrator, arguably making his most important contribution as a champion of the junior game.
He took over from Ernest Farley as the league's secretary in 1970 and has helped oversee the continued development of youth cricket across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.
The Kidsgrove League, which was formed in 1947, had three divisions when Cherry became involved in providing youngsters with competitive, organised cricket.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
But in the subsequent years, the former teacher has seen the league blossom into its current format of five under-17s divisions, three under-13s sections, as well as knockout competitions.
"I was doing some coaching at Betley when Ernest stepped down and I was asked to take on the role," said Cherry, who is in his 70s.
"The league was in its formative stage in many respects. Other sports in the area were offering youngsters the chance to play, so we tried to push the game of cricket.
"Clubs realised that if they wanted to gain a reputation for producing players they needed to run junior teams.
"There were parents in the club who had children and it gave them the chance to play the game."
Over the years, the league has captured the imagination of the area. Eight teams contested the first season, but the popularity has flourished to such an extent that there are now 44 member clubs.
"Youngsters wanted to play the game correctly and be coached," added Cherry, who lives in Cotes Heath.
"That was the crux of the matter. There were clubs embracing the opportunity to play cricket and it helped them to produce players to move into the senior game.
"We had to form new sections when the structure of the area changed, with new clubs and new estates cropping up.
"It is a challenge because to run an under-17s side we probably need 18 or 20 players to offer the right competition."
Matches were originally played on Wednesday or Thursday evenings, but were moved to a Sunday morning.
This enabled a longer format of the game to be played, and the success stories bear testament to that.
Not only have clubs benefited from the league's development, but individuals have also grasped the opportunity with both hands.
The likes of Bob Taylor (Bignall End), David Steele (Sneyd), Kim Barnett (Leek) and Dominic Cork (Betley) all started their careers as junior players in the Kidsgrove League before going on to play Test cricket for England.
There has also been a multitude of players who have carved out a career on the first-class circuit, including Tim Tweats (Leek and Derbyshire), and more recently Dan Redfern (Leycett and Derbyshire).
The Kidsgrove League has also offered opportunities for girls, with current England women's international Danielle Wyatt cutting her teeth with Whitmore on Sunday mornings.
"Once we established playing on a Sunday, the league continued to grow," added Cherry.
"Parents had more time at weekends and children, unless they were in a church choir, had little to do on a Sunday morning.
"It's a chance for children to learn cricket and continue to progress.
"There is the chance to play first-class cricket and, if they are good enough, to play at international level and see the world.
"I've spoken to players who have moved on to the professional game and they said the Kidsgrove League is the finest thing they did because it provided opportunities."
Cherry, quite rightly, takes satisfaction from the part he has played in driving the Kidsgrove League forward in the 42 years he has been secretary.
And he says establishing a platform for youngsters to take up the sport will be one of his abiding memories.
"Cricket is not played much, if at all, in schools nowadays, and there aren't inter-school competitions like there used to be," he said.
"There is football and rugby, but that is what made the league so attractive. It gave kids the opportunity to play cricket.
"The links between cricket and education are carefully nurtured. If you receive a good education and have the chance to play cricket for a good club, then you are doubly blessed.
"What the league has done over the years is tremendous. And one of the things I am proud of is the fact we've never had a serious disciplinary matter.
"When I reflect on my contribution, what has satisfied me the most is the fact the league is highly respected and has advanced for the benefit of youngsters."
Not that "close of play" has been called on Cherry's contribution to the league.
He will now take up a new role as the league's publicity officer to help continue to spread the word.
"Becoming the league's publicity officer and keeping a good relationship with the media and other contacts is of paramount importance," he added.
"The help from The Sentinel over the years has been marvellous – seeing reports and tables published helps the players and clubs. Hopefully, I can help play my part in the future.
"I'm always asked where there is great cricket played. And I say 'it is all over North Staffordshire'. I'm proud of that."