Man biking across U.S. for basketball nonprofit stops in Lawrence to see original rules
photo by: Lauren Fox
About halfway through his 3,500-mile bike ride across the United States, Leo Walsh stopped in Lawrence to see the original rules of the game he loves.
As Walsh pressed the exhibit button in the University of Kansas’ DeBruce Center, his eyes widened as Naismith’s rules of “Basket Ball” lit up. He edged closer to the screen and bent his 6-foot-4-inch frame down to read the original 13 rules of the game.
Walsh’s bike ride across America is centered on basketball.
The former college athlete is raising money from his journey for PeacePlayers International, a nonprofit that uses basketball to unite communities. In Northern Ireland, for example, PeacePlayers unites children from Catholic and Protestant families. In the Middle East, the program brings together Palestinians and Israelis. Funds raised from Walsh’s journey will go to support PeacePlayers programs in the United States.
Biking across America has been a goal of Walsh’s, but until now, the 28-year-old felt he never had the time. The COVID-19 pandemic — which canceled the five weddings he was supposed to attend this summer — paired with the current social unrest in the United States propelled Walsh to begin his journey.
Walsh said the unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in May after being pinned under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, got him thinking, “What can I actively do to help instead of just thinking about it and reading?”
He started his trip on Aug. 4 from his hometown of Clarks Green, Pa., and plans to end sometime in late October at the basketball courts on Venice Beach, Calif.
On Wednesday, he had only been in Kansas for about a day, but he said it’s been pretty good so far.
“It’s flat, but the wind has not been fun,” he said, noting that he knows it will only get worse as he continues through Kansas and into Colorado.
“Mountains are bad. Climbing a mountain — it’s horrible. It’s so painful. But then you get to the top and you get a downhill,” Walsh said. “But with headwinds you can’t see it. You can’t get to the top of it and then ride it down. It’s like an invisible enemy that you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going or why it’s coming at you. But it’s there and you gotta fight through it.”
Walsh wasn’t originally planning on stopping in Lawrence, but was told by a KU alumnus that he should see the original rules of the game.
“I didn’t even know that they were here. And I didn’t realize how big of a figure Naismith was to this school. So it’s been good to know and to learn about it,” he said.
photo by: Lauren Fox
As Walsh travels throughout the United States, he’s taking pictures of old basketball hoops along the route and uploading them to his blog and Instagram page, Peach Baskets. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball and then founded KU’s basketball program, first used peach baskets as his hoops, and there’s a statue of Naismith with a peach basket outside KU’s DeBruce Center.
photo by: Leo Walsh
Walsh has been interested in the stories of basketball hoops since he wrote a personal essay about his childhood hoop for an assignment at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, where he played college basketball.
“I wrote about my old hoop in our driveway. I really loved how it turned out and I thought there was something to it — how everyone kind of has their own hoop that invokes a bit of nostalgia and brings you back to your childhood,” he said.
His blog, peachbaskets.net, describes his journey and the basketball hoops he sees along the way. It also has a link to the website where people can donate money to PeacePlayers International in support of Walsh’s ride. As of Wednesday, he had raised over $5,000.
photo by: Leo Walsh
Walsh said that throughout his journey, he’s been grateful for the kindness of strangers who have offered him bananas, a place to stay, money for a meal or donations to the cause.
“I’ve been so surprised and at times overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of people throughout the trip,” he said.
In a year like 2020, Walsh said people might be losing their faith. But he’s been touched by the actions of strangers, and Walsh is hoping that his own actions will help PeacePlayers International unite communities through basketball.