Laughter and cheers are heard every Thursday evening from the gym at the Parkway Forest Community Centre.
It’s the sound of a cricket clinic, taught by Toronto Police officers for young people with intellectual disabilities.
“It’s more about having fun than competing,” explains Constable Asad Khan who started the clinic, along with Detective Mansoor Ahmed, in collaboration with Special Olympics Canada.
The program started in 2014 when parents of children with intellectual disabilities approached Khan and Ahmed, asking for sports program to foster better relationships between police and children.
The participants, all under 21, usually take turns batting, bowling and fielding, while police officers teach them the fundamentals of the sport.
For Shafqat Islam, it’s a great opportunity to be active and have fun.
“This is a great initiative by the police and it’s good for the welfare of children as they get some recreational time every week,” says Shafqat’s father, Nurul Islam. Islam says he used to take his son to a downtown cricket clinic, but the one at Parkway is much bigger and better for the kids.
For Abdul Shehzad, his love of cricket and police officers has come together.
“He writes about this cricket class every week in his journal,” explains his mother, Fehmina Bera, who says that since a young age Abdul has been fascinated with the uniform and when he heard police officers were teaching he was eager to attend.
Constable Mustafa Popalzai, part of the Toronto Police Cricket Team along with Khan and Ahmed, also teaches at the clinic. For him, it is all about teaching the game to young people who are interested in learning it.
“I’ve played cricket all my life, ever since I was 10 years old, so for me it is just a way of giving back.
“It means so much to them to come here and see how they enjoy playing the game… it’s just pure fun for them,” he says.
Khan says he approached Special Olympics Canada because cricket was missing from their roster and he felt that there were many young people in the GTA, with Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds, who enjoy playing the game since they watch it at home.
“Other than playing cricket, it is also just an opportunity for the kids to be themselves and have a fun evening,” says Khan.