Jared Soares went looking for “a piece of community in a big place.” He found it in Barry Farm, one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the nation’s capital, just east of the Anacostia River.
There, tucked among 400 or so mostly public housing units, the photographer found the Goodman League, a summer basketball organization that’s one of the neighborhood’s premier attractions.
Not only can you find locally famous ballers such as Corey Allmond - who played for Sam Houston State and, more importantly, set a three-point shooting record during a game against the vaunted Kentucky Wildcats – but it’s also a place where anyone might show up.
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant? He’s a regular. Orlando Magic guard and 2013 NBA No. 2 draft pick Victor Oladipo? He’s balled there. Former Washington Wizard and all-pro smack-talker Gilbert Arenas? Yup, you know it.
Though Goodman League regulars are accustomed to NBA and college stars dropping in for a game, it’s still a spectacle when a megastar like Durant takes the court, Soares said.
“It’s still a pretty special event when he shows up. You can’t really walk. The bleachers are packed,” he said. “It’s nice for kids who might not be able to afford to see a Wizards game - to see KD, give him a high five, see him up close.”
Soares, 31, who moved from Roanoke, Virginia, to D.C. in July 2012, shot the action over three months this summer. One evening, a longtime Goodman League fan pointed out a rangy “white guy lobbing them from outside, three-pointer after three-pointer.”
Soares asked who the fellow with grey hair was.
“How are you a journalist and don’t know who that is?” Soares recalls the fan asking him before reeling off Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s bio.
“Goodman League fans, they know everyone in and out,” Soares said.
An Overland Park, Kansas, native, Soares grew up a University of Kansas Jayhawks and Chicago Bulls fan, so he’s always enjoyed basketball. Now a budding Wizards fan, he appreciates the Goodman League’s high-octane offenses, which he likened to watching a NBA 2K14 video game.
But of more interest to Soares for this project was how the Goodman League brought a community together, how its traditions were on display alongside the alley-oops and pick and rolls. Commissioner Miles Rawls’ catch phrase - “Move ‘em!” - has even found its way into the lyrics of one of D.C. rapper Wale’s songs.
The league has long been a part of the area. Community activist George Goodman founded the Barry Farms Community Basketball League in 1975. The league changed its name to posthumously honor Goodman in the 1980s.
Soares enjoyed capturing how Washington residents would congregate, eating fried fish or chicken tenders - or maybe pickled sausages or eggs - and how every group had a designated section. Season ticket holders sit midcourt, while the youngsters, aka the “BF Crazies,” sit behind the baskets, and the corners are reserved for the “9 to 5 Crew,” folks who head to the courts right after work.
“It felt like a family reunion of sorts,” Soares said.
The league draws mostly young people – Soares estimates the average player to be about 25 years old – from the massive talent pool that is Virginia, Maryland and Washington, and Soares noticed a more fervent fandom for guys who had local connections, such as Allmond, Josh Selby of the Maine Red Claws or international journeymen David Hawkins and Brian Chase.
But it’s not just for local twentysomethings. Soares saw a few talented teens on the court this summer, and Obama’s education secretary is an ancient 48.
“If you can still play at a high level, you can run out there,” Soares said.
As much as the Goodman League adds to the community, though, its future is far from concrete. The Barry Farm community, which was established in 1867 as housing for freed slaves before it was transformed into public housing in the 1950s, is now, like many urban communities, threatened by progress.
The D.C. Housing Authority has approved a massive overhaul of the neighborhood - which The Washington Post recently described as “a violence- and drug-plagued garden style apartment community” – which many residents fear could include razing the Goodman League courts that Nike built. Anxious residents also worry they’ll be priced out of their homes.
Soares said he was familiar with Barry Farm’s reputation, but he never felt threatened during his photo shoots because none of the negative element was on display inside the Goodman League’s chain-link fences.
“I think Miles and other community activists have played their part to separate all that stuff out,” the photographer said. “It sounds corny, but it’s all love there.”
- Eliott McLaughlin, CNN