A young cricketer, who grew up in poverty in Guyana, has flown thousands of miles to Darlington to voluntarily coach children – and to develop himself as a player and a person…
AS he surveys the idyllic scene of children playing cricket on a peaceful English summer’s day, Sam Quallis can reflect on how far he’s come.
Sam’s flown more than 4,000 miles to voluntarily coach juniors at Darlington Railway Athletic Cricket Club, which has become his adopted home for the next few months. And it’s a far cry from his own childhood, growing up in a poor area of Guyana, on South America’s North Atlantic coast.
“There was no running water, so I had to ride my bike for a mile, just to get a drink,” he recalls.
When Sam was 18, he moved to Barbados, with his mother and sister, in search of a better life. And he’s built a future for himself by combining being a promising amateur cricketer with working as a clothes model. He’s also appeared on a travel film with singer Jane McDonald to promote tourism.
“Life is very different in Darlington. It is a nice, quiet town and I am loving being here, mentoring and supporting a great bunch of kids,” smiles Sam, who celebrated his 25th birthday just last week.
As well as supporting the juniors on Tuesdays and Fridays, he is also opening the bowling for the Darlington RA first team in the North Yorkshire and South Durham League’s premier division.
The club’s roots go back to March 1913 when Darlington NER Athletic Cricket Club was born. It changed its name to Darlington Railway Athletic in 1914 and has been a cornerstone of the town’s grass roots sports scene ever since.
As part of its commitment to use sport to develop young lives, the club – supported by established sponsors the Newlands Group and Drive Vauxhall Darlington – decided to bring in a professional cricketer to work with its juniors.
The original plan was to use Indian professional cricketer, Tanveer Ul-Haq, but the visit had to be cancelled when he suffered an injury, and the search began for a replacement.
Sam, who plays as an amateur for Wanderers Cricket Club, in Barbados, was tipped off about the opportunity to play at Darlington by his former cricket coach after it was advertised on social media.
“I decided to apply, and it all happened very quickly. I still can’t believe I’m here,” he says.
“This is my first time overseas and it’s a great opportunity for me to come here and experience a new culture while helping out with the kids and improving my bowling. Thank you to everyone who has made it possible.”
First team members are certainly doing their best to make sure Sam feel welcome. He was taken to St James’s Park to see Newcastle United play Brighton and was even given his own Magpies’ shirt.
“I think I’m a Newcastle fan now,” he says. “I’ll certainly be watching for their results when I’m back in Barbados.”
He’s also been on a trip to the Lake District and climbed Helvellyn. And, while he’s finding even the recent sunny weather to be still on the chilly side, he’s been getting used to traditional English dishes, with mince and dumplings his favourite so far.
Phil Crowther, founder of the Newlands Group, started his own cricketing career as a junior at Darlington RA, and, as a key sponsor, he’s proud of the club’s determination to make a difference at the grass roots.
“We passionately believe that sport is a powerful way to develop young people, and Sam playing here is part of that philosophy as everyone deserves a chance.
“He’s come from a challenging childhood, living in poverty, and it’s not only great for our kids to learn from him, but a chance for him to grow as both a cricketer and a person.”
Sam is also in debt to a professional cricketer called Tevin Imlach, who made his first-class debut for Guyana in 2018, having previously been named in the West Indies squad for the 2016 Under-19 Cricket World Cup.
It was Tevin who first spotted Sam’s potential, paying for him to have cricket lessons when he was eight and growing up in Sophia, a suburb of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. The pair have gone on to become friends.
“My dream is to be a professional cricketer one day and to make Tevin and my family proud,” says Sam.
In the meantime, he will be living in Darlington until he flies back to Barbados in September – guiding the juniors and doing his best to take wickets for the first team.
“Darlington has been good to me,” he smiles. “It will always be in my heart.”