By Janelle Burrell


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philly is, of course, a huge sports city, known for its competitive teams but there’s a relatively unknown sports league in town and its mission is impacting lives, one dribble at a time.

If you think of life as a game of basketball, they’ve had their share of defeats.

“I had a little rough time with the law for making poor decisions,” basketball player George Harrell said.

“I was a little wild growing up. I kinda did what I wanted to do,” basketball player Tony Beard said.

But these men are now in the third quarter of a playoff game, fighting for a come-from-behind win.

“It’s because of the vibe that you can get from here and you can leave with it. Gets you excited. I get excited,” Harrell said.

Each week Beard and Harrell come to the gym at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, where they are teammates with an undefeated record.

“The week before, I got a triple-double. That really helps with my stress,” Beard said.

Their games are a break from the very real challenges that they face off the court. All of the men in the league are homeless.

“I come here and forget that I’m in a shelter sometimes. I get out of the game and I’m like, ‘Oh, I gotta go back there? I forgot,'” Harrell said.

For now, the shelter is where they sleep at night, an experience Beard says is humbling.

“We’re men. We want to be able to take care of ourselves, take care of our families, but things happen,” Beard said. “But I’m thankful. I’m thankful for someplace to go when it’s time to get some rest.”

“They’re just as deserving to participate in sports leagues as I am and you are. We’re hoping to destigmatize a little bit, homelessness in general,” Hoops for Hope founder Victoria Urban said. “Of course, some of the mistakes these individuals have made may play a role in their homelessness, but a lot of times it doesn’t and they fell on hard times because of abuse or neglect. Just to see them get out here and kind of separate all that and move past that, they inspire me.”

Beard is a budding music producer and Harrell is in school to become an electrician.

“I think we have something to prove to ourselves. I know I do,” Beard said.

The game of hoops, giving them hope and motivation, both on this parish court and in the game of life.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s cause it’s a church. It might be a spiritual thing, I don’t know. The vibe, the energy, it really carries you on,” Harrell said.

Hoops for Hope is in the process of trying to officially become a nonprofit organization. They are not funded by the city and rely completely on donations.

For more information about the organization, click here.

Janelle Burrell