Watch CBS News

Harlem's Riverside Hawks create champions on and off the court

Riverside Hawks basketball program turns elite players into community leaders
Riverside Hawks basketball program turns elite players into community leaders 02:13

NEW YORK -- A youth basketball program based in an historic Harlem church has spent more than 60 years cranking out champions. The Riverside Hawks turn elite players into community leaders.

Serving more than 600 student-athletes across more than 20 teams, the Hawks cultivate champions on and off the court. This year, the fourth grade boys took home a national title.

"It gave me a competitive perspective," 11-year-old Cayden Stephens told CBS2's Jessi Mitchell on Monday, "Like, I've got to go hard every day, get more, don't settle."

For many of the players, convenience is key.

"Other teams you would have to take cabs and trains for an hour," remarked 12-year-old Victor-Dior Fertides. "This is basically right next door."

Encompassing much more than the basics, the rules of Riverside come down to ABC.

"We have our Academics, first and foremost," said director of operations Christopher Snell. "We have Basketball, second. And then we focus on maintaining a strong Community outside of just basketball."

Helping Harlem kids has become a personal mission for Snell. He grew up in a single parent home here, then spent time in prison before joining the Marines and earning a college degree.

"I did a 180," he said, "and now I have an opportunity to really pour back into the kids so that they have opportunities that they can learn from and not make the same mistakes that I may have made."

Last year the Hawks had a 100 percent graduation rate among high school seniors, earning more than $5 million in scholarships.

"Now I take it more seriously," Stephens said about his schoolwork. "I see the guys that get into Duke and UNC and the really big colleges, their grades are high and they're also really good at basketball and they just work hard."

Players participating in the program's leadership academy receive tutoring twice a week, and on the road they hit the books before hitting the court.

"If I'm struggling academically, I always have help," said 15-year-old Nehemiah Snell, "and the coaches are just like more than coaches because they're like mentors and we know that they're here for us if we really need them."

They also engage with speakers and local leaders who look like them, like lawyer and Hawks board chair Phil Isom.

"Growing up in Harlem just trying to make it day to day, do my best," Isom recalled. "Now I have achieved what I've achieved, it shows them that I was like them and now they can be like me."

"I could have been on the streets, or whatever," admitted 17-year-old Rebecca Osei-Owusu, "but me being here with my coach and stuff, it's keeping me out of the trouble."

Players said the environment fosters a feeling of family.

"I feel like, a sisterhood," said Osei-Owusu. "If I'm stressed out, this has always been a safe outlet for me to come here."

"They brought me in as their brother and taught me the ins and outs of how we're going to play and how we're going to run this and that," added Stephens, "so I thought that was really good of the team. It showed a lot of leadership and class from them."

Despite their different backgrounds, these Harlem hoopers have found a bond bigger than basketball.

The Riverside Hawks will host their annual fundraiser gala at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Dec. 13. To learn more, click here.

Have a story idea or tip in Harlem? Email Jessi by CLICKING HERE.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.