On Wednesday, March 22, Devon Cricket and Western Storm inspired girls from four state schools to play hardball cricket.

Held at the University of Exeter, four state schools were invited to the Ondaatje Cricket Centre to take part in a taster session for hardball cricket. These schools were selected as they have been competing in Chance to Compete and the Lady Taverners Tournaments for a long time.

Newton Abbot College 

Okehampton College 

St James' School, Exeter 

St Peter's School, Exeter 

Inspiring the girls to see cricket as a game for them, Western Storm players Chloe Skelton and Lauren Filer were present on the day. As both players have professional contracts, they were ideally placed to talk to the girls about how cricket can be an option for them, especially Chloe, who did not start playing cricket until she was 13 years old.

The day started with a short talk about Western Storm and a Q&A session with Lauren and Chloe. They spoke about what had inspired them to play cricket and what had been the highs and lows of their cricket careers. The girls asked plenty of questions about the ball and how much it hurt, and what their worst injury had been - showing they were worried about being injured. After some gruesome injury descriptions, they were able to reassure all the participants that injuries were few and far between!

Lauren (left) and Chloe spoke about their cricket careers and answered questions from the girls and members of staff.After the talk, the girls were taken to the Cricket Centre and joined by Paul Heard, Devon Cricket's Level 3 coach, who coaches with the Western Storm Emerging Player Programme. Lauren and Chloe led a group warm-up and then the introduction to hardball started.

The schools selected all had a core of players that had had some experience of hardball cricket that would help build the confidence of the other girls who made up the group. Those attending were predominantly Year 7 or 8 in order to promote a positive culture of cricket at the beginning of the secondary school journey.

Young Leaders from Newton Abbot College also attended the day. They have been running cricket training for the younger girls, and were keen to be part of the day and see the younger girls develop their hardball skills.

Newton Abbot Young Leader, Libby, helps a participant with putting on the kit for her first go at hardball cricket.

For the next few hours, all the girls attending were able to have their first experience of hardball cricket in the nets. The girls were excited about the challenge and many were very keen to enter the nets and have a go. Chloe, Lauren and Paul supported the girls in the nets, giving them tips on batting and bowling.

All the girls coming out of the nets had a positive experience and were keen to further develop their skills. There was plenty of laughing at the unusual feeling of wearing the pads and helmet while they were playing, and the support and encouragement given by all players to their teammates was present throughout the day.

"I was really nervous when I went in, but once I hit the ball a few times, I felt better and actually quite enjoyed it!" 

"It wasn't as scary as I thought. The ball hit my pad and it didn't hurt at all. I felt better after that and just tried the hit the ball as hard as I could!"

They will be able to do this at the follow-up day on April 20 at Hatherleigh Cricket Club, where the schools will play friendly hardball cricket games to build on the experience they have had at the cricket centre. The day will be umpired and scored by young officials from the schools.

Ahead of lunch, all the girls were awarded with a certificate of attendance and Lauren and Chloe took the time to sign them all. 

The afternoon ended with a tour of the university sports facilities, inspiring the girls not only to play cricket but to see what they can access should they attend university in the future.

A big thank you to the university for hosting the event at the Cricket Centre, and many thanks to Lauren and Chloe for coming for the day and inspiring the girls to play.

If your school would like to find out about having a hardball experience or would like to be involved in the Hardball Development Day next year, please contact Devon Cricket's Women and Girls Development Officer, Ann-Marie Presswell.