Whitehall Elementary School physical education teacher Jonathan Jones shows fifth-grader Michelle Amaya, 11, of Bowie how to hold a cricket bat. (Greg Dohler/The Gazette)

The air outside Whitehall Elementary is filled with the typical playground sounds of laughing children and bats colliding with balls, but the sport is one not often played in America: cricket.

The action in cricket, a game with roots that trace back to 16th-century England, slightly resembles baseball. It involves a competition between two teams of 11 players to accumulate the most runs.

Unlike a baseball pitcher, cricket has a “bowler,” who launches the ball to a batsman, who attempts to hit it. If the ball is hit but not caught, the batter runs along a rectangular stretch, trying to make a “run.”

“I think it’s a very fun sport that can get you moving and active,” said fifth-grader Olivia Kendall, 11, last month when she and her classmates tried the sport. “I love it better than football and baseball.”

Jonathan Jones, the Bowie school’s physical education teacher, began teaching cricket to fourth- and fifth-graders in 2011.

He was introduced to the sport by the Glen Burnie-based United States Youth Cricket Association in 2011.

Jones said cricket is an unusual sport to teach at Whitehall, which has about 488 students, but that’s part of the reason he chose it.

“I love to give them new experiences,” said Jones, who has been teaching at Whitehall for six years. “I’m always trying to give kids an alternative to the normal basketball, football and soccer.”

The game of cricket is popular around the world, and interest is exploding in the United States, said Jamie Harrison, USYCA’s president.

The sport is particularly strong in Maryland, which has first- and second-generation immigrants from southeast Asian countries with a strong tradition of playing the game, he said.

“Maryland is one of the really strong bases for youth cricket in the United States,” he said.

In Maryland, there probably are about 1,000 adults playing the game. Harrison said. The Washington Cricket League and the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board are the two big adult leagues for the sport in the area, he said.

Teaching the game to children is fairly easy, Jones said. Initial lessons and demonstrations might take only about 15 minutes before children can play the game. The equipment was donated to the school by USYCA, Jones said.

“It’s, like, the easiest game to pick up,” said Jaylin Moise, a fifth-grader at Whitehall. “It’s really fun to play this sport. It can help you lose weight and exercise.”

Since cricket started at the school, interest has blossomed. The Bowie Boys and Girls Club decided in the summer to offer it as a sport, said Joe Hoyt, the club’s president. About 50 children signed up for the sport last year, he said.

“We’re the only Boys and Girls Club that has it in the county,” Hoyt said.

Having about 50 players can make a program tenuous. If participants drop out during the season or between seasons, it can be hard to put on games, Hoyt said.

As of March 21, about 50 children had signed up for the sport once again, which seems to suggest cricket has some life in it, Hoyt said.

“It appears to be picking up in popularity,” he said.

Aidan Adamson, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Whitehall, told Jones he plans to sign up over the summer with a friend.

“I thought I might give it a try,” he said. “It’s a growing sport.”