Experiencing 94 ft of Possibility with Advancing Macomb

Basketball courts are more than just a place to play a game. In Black communities. they are a place where kids learn life lessons and multigenerational community members gather. 

A few years ago, Karl Hayes and Tommy Barnes started volunteering at a formerly defunct local community center along with other dads in the community. They helped manage the day-to-day operations indoors but soon realized the kids wanted an outdoor space to play in the summer. The nearby basketball court was not in good shape, and parents felt unsafe having their kids play there. 

Karl and Tommy were inspired to develop an initiative called 94 Feet of Possibility, through which they organized over 100 volunteers to refurbish the courts. The courts became a point of pride for the local community, marking the beginning of a journey to make the space more functional for young people.

Mt. Clemens has a higher concentration of African Americans than other cities in the predominantly white Macomb County. And like many cities in southeast Michigan, it was deeply impacted by the Great Recession in the late 2000s. Municipal resources were cut, and the city’s school and after-school programming and maintenance of parks and recreational facilities suffered. There are many long-lasting consequences. Schools and community centers that closed have not reopened or been repurposed. Karl, who is also a coach, artist, and musician, says that many parents choose to send their kids to other school districts so kids who live near each other do not grow up playing together, and this leads to a disjointed community. 

Once the courts were in usable shape, they focused on ensuring equipment was ample and accessible. With support from Advancing Macomb, a nonprofit committed to connecting community challenges with high-impact solutions, and SportPort, an equipment-sharing pilot program led by Project Play: Southeast Michigan and made possible by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Funds, 94 Feet has been able to install ball racks and supply basketballs at three locations in Macomb County: Shadyside Park in Mount Clemens, Prince Drewry Park in Clinton Township, and Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. 

During the Covid-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020, Advancing Macomb and TCB Youth Mentoring gave away 2,000 Project Play kits for at-home recreation. They partnered with the Mount Clemens Public Library and LK St. Clair Soccer to distribute the kits, which included basketballs, jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, and other equipment with local partners Mount Clemens Public Library and LK St. Clair Soccer.

Once Covid-19 related mandates were lifted, 94 Feet programming returned bigger and better. They worked with the City to reopen the community center and expand their programming. They now offer entry-level sports programs to promote sports sampling and family “free play” opportunities. They have initiated a family kickball league that brings out parents, kids, and seniors to play and watch. SportPort equipment is available on-site for kids and families to use. Tommy and Karl describe the environment as family-centered, fun, and not overly competitive.

“I like how they let kids of all ages come here. I like the adults that teach kids how to grow to be better people.”

– Julian

“I like everything about basketball. (As one of the few girls) it feels the same like I’m one of them. You gotta play like them or get off the court.”

Leah

“You can just relieve all your stress up here and play basketball and not get into no trouble.”

– Ramere

94 Feet is committed to engaging young people in the work of community building. During the lockdown, a local teen, Antonio, got equipment from SportPort for his little brother. Seeing how much he enjoyed it, Antonio began taking equipment to different community housing projects in the area. He was later hired through MiWorks to support SportPort, and once in-person programs returned, he helped engage his brother and other kids in the programming offered by 94 Feet. Antonio’s commitment has inspired the program to employ more high schoolers.

At the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Project Play, we strive to lift up the impactful work of our grantees who are creating positive permanent change in people’s lives throughout southeast Michigan. This post is part of a series of profiles about our youth sports grantees.

Project Play: Southeast Michigan is driven and funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Youth Sports & Recreation focus area in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.