By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, mgray@afro.com

Goombay, the recreational, outdoor adventure and team sports company which targets urban professionals who feel the need to scratch their competitive itch, is headed back to the future.  The organization which has developed sizeable following for its kickball leagues will now take a splash this weekend with open play for the spring season of its aqua volleyball league.

This is the inaugural year for the water-based league which recently concluded its fall season at the Life Fitness in Bowie.  Over 50 players participated in the league featuring teams with 6-10 players competing for a championship.  Volleyball was the first competitive league that Goombay started when the company launched in 1988.  With a solid foundation and a core of co-ed competitors and fans, organizers are hoping the league will morph into a year round activity.

Goombay’s spring aqua volleyball league starts with open play for those who want to learn in Bowie, MD. (Courtesy Photo)

“Volleyball was the first sport competed in,” founder James “Butch” Goodwin tells the AFRO.  “We got whipped pretty good because we were playing picnic volleyball when we took our team to compete against other primarily White teams.”

Their struggle to have a realistic chance at winning forced Goombay to shut down the barnstorming Black volleyballers to get better. Goodwin trained those athletes, who were competing for camaraderie and exercise, how to dig, set and spike which are skills needed to be successful when seriously playing the game.  The interest in the game has spiked to the point they now field two teams that compete in the BOLA sports beach volleyball on the mall in D.C.

“It’s more about teaching average athletes how to play the game at a high level,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin is a renaissance man when it comes to creating competitive sports, social and leisure opportunities for young Black professionals who are weekend warriors that don’t want to be couch potatoes in Prince George’s County.  The kickball leagues have become so popular that it’s difficult to find parking with a mile of the field when teams compete at Walker Mill Park in District Heights.

The kickball league developed from Goombay’s original flag football league with many of the same players who were looking to activities to remain competitive and physically fit. Kickball is played at a level of intensity that now has players training year round for its co-ed leagues where physical fitness augments the competition.

“This is a workout during each match or during practice so its keeps you in shape as well,” said Goodwin. “Nobody is fooling around.  Our training is serious.”

Goodman has built his company on the premise of expanding the recreational and social perspectives of what many upscale Black professionals would consider unique events. He launched Goombay in 1988 out of a passion to participate in recreational sports activities thought to be outside the box for most African Americans.  While a student at the University of Pittsburgh he was exposed by his circle of primarily White associates to activities such as whitewater rafting that he enjoyed.

After his professional career began Goodwin wished to go whitewater rafting again with his Black professional contemporaries.  However, the price was prohibitive to many of his friends, so he paid the tab for 30 people to join him. Goodwin said the trip was eye-opening for both him and his guests, who had never been exposed to navigating through the raging rapids of western Pennsylvania.

The same now holds true for the aqua volleyball competition whose popularity continues to grow in the county through this fledgling league. Goodwin hopes that the free play will create more interest in volleyball and the type of following that accompanies the kickball leagues which would lead to year round competition in and out of the water.