By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two North Philadelphia youth basketball teams are set to compete in the International Small Fry Basketball Tournament at Disney World in a few days.
But they need the public’s help to make their dream come true.
“I don’t know if any of these kids will ever be Allen Iverson, but we could have the next mayor of Philadelphia,” says John Dennis, 37, varsity coach for the Philly All-Stars, a Small Fry team.
For the second year in a row, two Philadelphia teams that qualified for the Small Fry tournament in Florida have been working hard for the past eight months to raise the $30,000 they need to get 24 players and six coaches to the Sunshine State.
“We’ve done Krispy Kreme donut fundraisers, we’ve done fish fries, raffles, skating parties, we’ve sold dinners, we’ve sold apparel where a portion of the proceeds come back to us,” Dennis tells KYW Newsradio. “We’ve done everything we can think of.”
Today, Dennis was going door-to-door to businesses with sponsorship letters, hoping a generous donor would step forward to help the teams make up the $8,500 funding gap before their April 11th deadline.
“It’s been tough, sometimes,” he says, “but the kids keep you going. It’s no way you can say no to kids who look up to you for guidance and structure.”
Philly All-Stars Basketball includes two teams: a “varsity” team for players 11 to 13 who are 5’1″ and under, and a “rookie” team for kids age 8 to 11 years old, who are 4’11” and under.
“These kids have so much in them that they don’t realize,” says Dennis. “Some of the kids think they can only be a ball player or a rapper, but we are showing them they have so many more gifts — they can be anything.”
Last year, the Philadelphia 76ers, US Rep. Bob Brady, and others donated the tens of thousands of dollars it took to pay for the trip. The group traveled to Florida and met teams from Puerto Rico (in photo below) and the Bahamas. They saw an alligator, with some kids eating in a steakhouse for the very first time.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to go, have fun, and learn about different cultures,” says Dennis. “Some of these kids have never been outside of the city limits.”
This year the donations are smaller and the April 11th deadline is coming fast. Dennis says they had a large number of kids try out — which means more kids to support, which put a huge strain on their funds.
But Dennis says he is determined to make it work.
“I’m an optimist — I am hoping something will come through,” he says.
Dennis says he and his partner, Tim Hood, both spent time in prison and came up with the idea for the the Philly All-Stars, to “pay it forward” and change lives. They pay rent for a basketball court and feed kids who need help.
“I made a mistake and I went the wrong way,” he says. “The fact that I went through that stuff, I just want to help another kids to avoid that and know they can go to the moon.”
For more information or to donate to the Philly All-Stars, e-mail email@example.com or call 267-800-3564.