ON the back of the fantastic efforts of volunteers across NSW and the ACT, there has once again been an increase in cricket participation numbers across the region.
Across Cricket NSW/ACT over the 2019-20 season, participation went up 12.3 per cent to 493,121 participating - amounting to an increase of 53,815 on the previous year's mark of 439,306.
NSW/ACT, who was once again number one for participation in the country, also had the highest total number of females with 157,399, making up 31.9 per cent of state participation during 2019-20.
In terms of juniors, the Cricket Blast program - Australian Cricket's national entry-level program, saw NSW/ACT achieve an increase of 34 per cent in participation to 16,001 - with girls increasing 56 per cent.
Locally, the Shoalhaven District Cricket Association saw an increase in juniors but a decrease in seniors.
In the SDJCA, 349 players took part last season, up from 266 last season - corresponding to an increase in six teams.
There was also growth in stage one and two, as well as the Cricket Blast, which went up eight per cent to 221 participants (which involves both the Shoalhaven and Highlands).
Last season, seniors, which only had five teams in first grade, were down from 587 to 514.
"Overall the numbers are pleasing, especially in the juniors," Southern NSW and ACT area manager Martin Gleeson said.
"In that, we saw a significant increase in the girls' numbers in stage one, with the competition evolving to more of a mixed one offering opportunities for boys and girls to play.
"As such, the SDJCA can now start having meaningful discussions about establishing a standalone girls competition.
"We are keen to work with new president Lisa Kennedy about how it might look and how we can tap into potential funding programs."
These results Gleeson explain are a positive indicator of the future health of the sport in the Shoalhaven.
"After a significant review into the competition leading into last season, we all agreed how important it was to reestablish an under 16s competition," he said.
"Full credit to all the clubs for adopting the stages, not ages format, which has allowed players an avenue to play in that crucial period between 14 and 18s years.
"As well as that, these numbers are a reflection of the increased push to transition the strong school numbers (4,748 - up 17 per cent) into participation at clubland and keep them engaged enough that they want to stay for years to come.
On top of the junior growth, Gleeson says the extra commitment by the clubs has paid dividends including the appointment of Jackson Surman as SDCA administrator.
"Jackson's appointment is an outcome of the review process and will help provide the association with an administrative service to get to that next level while showing the importance cricket has to the community,"
These figures are pleasing for Cricket NSW when reflecting back over a season full of disruption due to bushfires, heatwaves, floods and the impact of COVID-19.
Despite these disruptions, registered participation increased 1.2 per cent, helping reverse four years of registered participation contraction.
"A massive thanks goes to all the volunteers and stakeholders who not only navigated their way through a very challenging season but had the courage and strength to look for ways to work collaboratively and partner with Cricket NSW to grow cricket" general manager community cricket Ivan Spyrdz said.
"Running a cricket club is not an easy task, particularly when faced with natural disasters and disruption to communities such as we've seen.
"The way many of our clubs and associations embraced our staff uplift to work together to get through the season was really the key to cricket's success in NSW and the ACT.
"We love working closely with our clubs and are delighted that those we worked closely with saw such positive results so quickly.
"We also understand that not every club or association saw growth, and that is the continuing challenge we accept.
"Despite the situation surrounding us all due to COVID-19, we will continue to work with all our clubs and stakeholders for shared success, and ultimately see more people playing and loving cricket."
Female cricket also continued to blossom in 2019-20 with another 10 per cent growth in participation numbers, with 22,930 taking part over the summer.
"We continue to see female cricketers join our sport in strong numbers," Spyrdz said.
"Whether it be our youngest players signing up for the first time in record numbers via Cricket Blast or our senior players enjoying new social offerings being introduced across the state, we are delighted at having more female players, volunteers and administrators in our game."
The increase in overall participation is a result of sharper focus by the increased community cricket staff on areas of impact, better planning and alignment with clubs, associations and schools and leveraging a large 2019 winter of cricket.
"While it's great to see overall participation grow, the most enjoyable takeout from this year is the growth of the partnership between the cricket communities and Cricket NSW," Spyrdz said.
"This partnership has lead to many great outcomes that aren't measured in the census, like increased use of technology including on-line registrations and live game e-scoring, significant uptake in Active Kids Voucher usage, increased facility investment and grant allocations, increased competition offerings for the wider public and an overall sense of collaboration within cricket.
"These things combined with a range of other initiatives are aimed at providing support and efficiency to volunteers, therefore reducing their time on things that take them away from enjoying the game of cricket.
"We acknowledge that in the past we haven't been able to provide the service and support to our cricket communities that we would like, and we now feel we are much better placed to listen, learn and support them where ever we can to continue to grow cricket within clubs."