Video created by Lead Basketball Coach for PeacePlayers Detroit, Le Baron Dock Leath II. Voice-over performed by his daughter and PeacePlayers Detroit participant, Wynter Leath
Leo Walsh has a deep appreciation for America’s beauty, it’s a big reason why he chose to hop on his bicycle for three months and take a 3,500-mile trek across the country.
But what’s at the center of his attention is not always the lush landscape and rolling hills.
What might be invisible to most people is plainly evident to Walsh, whose passion for basketball – and for PeacePlayers International – has led him on a journey of a lifetime.
A trip that began on Aug. 4 in his hometown of Clarks Green, Pennsylvania and is expected to end sometime in late October on the fabled courts of Venice Beach, California is a search for degraded basketball hoops ravaged by time.
“I always have my head on a swivel using my peripheral vision while I’m biking,” says Walsh. “There are times that I have a sense that an old barn coming up might have a hoop on the other side of it. Then I pass it and to my delight there is a beautiful battered old hoop.”
Walsh, 28, walked on to the basketball team while attending college at Fordham and developed a friendship with teammate Ryan Hage, who spent two years in Cyprus working for PeacePlayers. Enamored with the mission of Peace Players, Walsh hoped to do similar work but he joined an ecommerce company after finishing college and the timing was never right.
Until now. All the money Walsh raises during his bike trip will be donated to PeacePlayers.
“What PeacePlayers is at its core is exposing kids to cultures and customs and people that you might not be used to,” Walsh said. “It pushes your boundaries of what you’re comfortable with and when you’re exposed to those things at a young age it breeds empathy and friendship and goodness.
“I think PeacePlayers initiative of play together, live together is just so simple and so true. If you can learn to play basketball together and you can be exposed to the different aspects of different cultures and religions and beliefs then I think it will create empathy and goodness and, I think, a better world.”
Walsh wanted to start his trip in the spring but the pandemic altered his plans. This gave him time to reflect on turmoil in the world, which only grew worse when the killing of George Floyd increased attention on racial injustice.
“I remember writing things down during the early days of the pandemic that we need to invest in our communities and invest in our kids because that’s what’s going to change things,” Walsh said. “And that kind of comes from a grass roots level.”
“For me as someone who had a basketball project and who would like to make a difference and who was planning on biking across the country it only made sense that this was one of the things I can do to make a slight change. Peace Players was on my radar for awhile and I just believe so fully in their philosophy.”
Over the first two weeks of his trip, Walsh has already found and photographed dozens of hoops which he is chronicling on Instagram and on his blog at peachbaskets.net.
This is not the first time he’s scoured the continent for old hoops, though the last time he had the benefit of an engine and four wheels instead of his legs and two. Walsh drove 14,000 miles all around North America in 2019 with a similar mission to find hoops and tell their stories through photography and talking to the people whose land — or barns — they reside on.
While riding through the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia he noticed an old hoop and stopped to take some photos. The home belonged to an elderly African-American woman who just happened to pull into her driveway at the moment Walsh pulled up.
He asked for and received permission to photograph the hoop and also inquired about its history. Turns out the woman’s granddaughter had lived with her until she was 16 and adored shooting baskets. The granddaughter liked it so much she wouldn’t hesitate to chase after the basketball when a missed shot would disappear into nearby bushes.
The problem? The bushes left her legs so beat up her teachers grew concerned something was amiss at home.
“They called child services,” Walsh said. “And she had to bring them back to the house and prove that the scars were coming from the daughter going and fetching the ball from the bushes.”
It’s these stories that Walsh knows are out there and which he craves to tell.
“I love the thought of me taking a picture of something that no one has thought to take a picture of,” he said. “If it means something to me it may mean something to other basketball lovers.”
Walsh has to travel light to make sure he can get through dozens of miles each day but he’s equipped with essentials: A tent, clothes, a camera and a basketball that has a PeacePlayers decal on it.
The days are long and can be arduous, though his goal of making it to California by late October isn’t set in stone.
“I’m in no rush,” Walsh said. “So who knows.”
Visit Leo’s donation page today to support his efforts! Click Here