For most Mercer County families with children from 5 to 17 years old, the rec sports cycle starts in late summer, and it gives kids a chance not only to participate in team sports, but also to learn valuable lessons about teamwork, leadership and fair play.

But imagine that you’re not the average Mercer County family. Imagine instead that your family is homeless and struggling. You likely don’t have the money to make ends meet, let alone the funds for uniforms, or even the time that permits volunteering for a team, says Connie Mercer, executive director of HomeFront.

For 19 years HomeFront has served homeless and struggling families in Mercer County, but never on the court. Until now.

“We started with a six-week experimental program during the summer of 2007,” says HomeFront basketball head coach Dominick Esposito. “A HomeFront staff member and I met with a group of 8 to 10 boys once a week and taught them basketball basics.”

The group met at the Lawrenceville Neighborhood Center’s gym on Eggerts Crossing Road and was funded through donations by area businesses Mathematica Policy Research, Pepper Hamilton, and Amicus Therapeutics.

“From the start, the idea was to build it into something more than just a summertime activity,” Esposito says. “Our goal was to field a team in an organized rec league starting in the fall.”

HomeFront’s first “home team” started playing games in the Trenton PAL rec league last fall and the Martin House league last spring. In total, 14 boys ages 11 to 14 played on the first HomeFront basketball team. Before their first season began, the coaching staff grew from one to three.

Though the team did not win many games last year, the boys learned valuable lessons about teamwork, hard work, and sportsmanship, Mercer says. Already the team’s following is growing. This season the coaching staff has expanded from three to six and financial contributions have allowed for two teams in different age groups in the Trenton Boys & Girls Club league.

Anyone wishing to support HomeFront or its home team, can contact Alicia Portalatin at HomeFront, 609-989-9417, ext. 133.

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