The school's cricket campaign 'Chance to Shine' announced today that it has introduced one million girls to cricket in another significant milestone in the programme's 10-year history.
A decade ago, cricket was on the decline in state schools with less than 10 per cent of them playing any form of meaningful, competitive cricket. For many girls, cricket wasn't even an option at school. The charity behind the campaign, the Cricket Foundation, with the support of England and Wales Cricket Board and the Government, through Sport England, has reversed that decline and in doing so demonstrated cricket's growing diversity.
Today, over two million children in just over 9,000 state schools have played competitive cricket through the programme. In 2013, 46 per cent of pupils involved in the Chance to Shine programme - 191,700 - were girls. Chance to Shine links cricket clubs and their coaches to local primary and secondary schools, via the ECB's network of County Cricket Boards.
Lillie Edwards, 12, from Cromer Academy in Norfolk became the one millionth girl to benefit from the national state schools' cricket scheme since its launch in 2005. She is part of the school's newly formed girls' cricket squad and said: "It's important that girls play cricket as girls can do anything that boys can do. It's important that boys and everyone else remember that!"
On hearing the news, England Women captain Charlotte Edwards, fresh from the team's Ashes victory in Australia, sent a message to the charity saying: "Congratulations to everyone at Chance to Shine from all the England Women's team for reaching one million girls. What a fantastic achievement! We're proud to be a part of the campaign and hope to inspire many more girls to take up the game."
Minister of Sport and Equalities Helen Grant MP helped to celebrate the charity's milestone by visiting a girls' cricket session in her Maidstone constituency.
In 2008, ECB's Head of Women's Cricket Clare Connor OBE and Cricket Foundation chief executive Wasim Khan MBE were instrumental in establishing a partnership between ECB and Cricket Foundation. This enabled England Women cricketers to work on the Chance to Shine campaign as coaching ambassadors.
Connor commented: "For one million girls to have had the opportunity to play cricket since the inception of Chance to Shine eight years ago is a remarkable achievement.
“It is fitting that we are able to celebrate this milestone today just a few days after the return of our back to back Ashes-winning England Women's team. Many of them have played an inspirational role in the scheme's success through their coaching work with girls in schools up and down the country. We should all be so proud of them as a team and as role models who are helping change the face of our sport for girls in this country."
Khan said: "It's sad to think that for the majority of girls, cricket just wasn't an option for them at school or their local club less than 10 years ago. We're starting to change that and have seen how girls have embraced the sport. More needs to be done to get girls on an equal footing as boys and we'll continue our efforts, with ECB, until every state school provides their girls with the opportunity to play, enjoy and learn through cricket."
The charity now employs six England Women cricketers, including the captain, who support Chance to Shine by coaching children, training teachers and delivering school assemblies across the country.
While they are not central contracts, they are designed to give the players the flexibility to train and play international cricket while earning a living. The ambassadors - Charlotte Edwards, Lydia Greenway, Danni Hazell, Jenny Gunn, Heather Knight and Susie Rowe - coached over 6,000 girls in 2013 and have inspired thousands more to take up the game over the past five years.
Girls like Zoey Cape, 15, from Minehead in Somerset. Chance to Shine coach Steve Hayes spotted her on his first visit to Dubricious Church of England School. She looked so natural playing cricket that he invited her to join Minehead Cricket Club. Zoey had only ever played back garden cricket, messing around with her brothers, so for her it was a big step going to a cricket club. In July 2012, Zoey made her debut for Somerset senior women's side and has ambitions to play for England one day.
The Cricket Foundation raises funds and awareness to ensure that girls across the country have opportunities to play cricket. It has also funded a series of online coaching videos by the England Women team, which has been used as an educational tool for aspiring female cricketers (available at youtube.com/chancetoshinecricket).
It costs just £15 to provide a year's cricket coaching to one child and the charity needs to raise £1million each year to keep the Chance to Shine programme running.
To find out more about Chance to Shine and for ways to get involved visit chancetoshine.org