Since the day he first volunteered, Lance Walsh has always been eager to give back to his community.
Whether it’s been collecting sneakers through donations to give to kids, helping refurbish basketball courts or traveling out of the country to help those in need, the Trumbull High senior has found different ways to help the less fortunate.
“I feel like the game of basketball gave me the opportunity to give back to the community,” Walsh said. “I want to do my part to make the world a better place. I love making these kids happy. Growing up, I had all of these opportunities to play (basketball).”
Walsh has done plenty of work for Full Court Peace, a non-profit organization that has been repairing outdoor basketball courts among many other things in Fairfield County since 2013.
“Lance raises our bar for what it means to participate in what we do,” said Mike Evans, the founder and executive director of Full Court Peace. “If we had a bunch of Lances, that level of dedication, we would have an even better organization.”
Walsh is hoping to get one final season playing for the Trumbull boys basketball team. Right now, the season won’t begin until late January at the earliest, already pushed back from December due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walsh has already spent some time in quarantine — five weeks he said, in parts of October and November, once due to a fellow student getting the virus, the second time due to a family testing positive.
Once the lockdown was lifted after the COVID-19 pandemic first began, Walsh went back to doing some community work.
His goal this summer was to be able to donate 150 pairs of sneakers to kids in local inner-city areas ages 10-17. He also wanted to donate basketballs and stand-up hoops one can transport. The process started in June.
Walsh posted on Facebook and social media his desire to donate sneakers. He was able to more than double his goal. In fact, Walsh said he was able to get approximately 400 pairs of sneakers donated.
“I saw the COVID as an opportunity to give back. I still didn’t have much else to do (during that time),” Walsh said. “This gave all of them the opportunity to simply play on a court somewhere. The (portable hoops) allow them to play in their own driveway.”
In addition to refurbishing basketball courts, Full Court Peace also has clubs led by high school students and runs week-long tournaments and camps. As Evans put it, all of it “brings communities together who normally do not come together” through basketball.
Walsh’s mom, Margaret, had noticed the website, then reached out to Evans. Walsh volunteered at one of those camps in the summer between his eighth and ninth grade years in 2017. He was hooked right away.
“A lot of times it’s the parents who want the kids to give back,” Evans said. “His mom introduced us. Lance took charge of everything from there.”
Evans said Full Court Peace was created in 2006 when he lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It expanded to Havana, Cuba and then to Connecticut in 2013. The non-profit has since expanded to cities in California, Florida, South Carolina, Colorado and West Virginia.
It wasn’t long after they met when Evans asked Walsh if he would be interested in making a trip to Cuba. Evans, 38, said he has made 43 trips himself over the years.
Walsh was interested. He wanted to help out in any way he could. So he and his dad Brian joined other kids and their parents on the trip in 2018 to not only donate many sets of sneakers to those in need, but also to help refurbish courts that had fallen into disrepair.
“We held a shoe drive. We collected a lot of pairs of shoes (sneakers) and basketballs to give to kids in Cuba who didn’t have the means to purchase it themselves,” Walsh said. “There were pretty damaged and ruined courts all over the island. We painted the lines, put in new rims. A lot of them even helped us paint. The kids were very happy to have us there. A lot of the kids showed up to the courts barefoot. Giving them shoes made their day.”
Said Trumbull basketball coach Buddy Bray: “One thing about the game of basketball is it crosses so many diversities and cultures. It’s a worldwide game. It’s cool how they are all connected. … This was something Lance decided he wanted to do and he has done a great job.”
Evans called Walsh “a pioneer” and someone very mature for his age, to be able to deal with what you see in under-developed countries like Cuba.
Walsh spent a lot more time on his own game in the summer of 2019 — yet still managed to find time to collect donated sneakers.
In addition to collecting the approximate 400 sets of sneakers this summer, Walsh was able to get a few friends to volunteer their time to help him paint the basketball court at The Barnum School in Bridgeport on Oct. 3.
Evans said Full Court Peace has helped refurbish 14 outdoor courts in the last five months.
“We raised the money to paint the courts as an organization, but Lance gathered a bunch of kids to help paint. Lance has done a great job being an ambassador for the organization,” said Evans, a 2001 Weston High graduate.
Walsh said he wants to continue to help refurbish courts and donate his time before he heads off to college. Among the colleges he is considering is Miami (Fla.), in part because it is a shorter trip to Cuba. He is also considering the University of Indiana for its business school.
“Ultimately, I want to start my own business and do kind of like what Mike does,” Walsh said.