By Ravyn Malvino
Parents are encouraged to keep their children active and allow them to participate in organized sports. This task becomes nearly impossible when playing can cost the same amount as a monthly mortgage payment.
Enter 27-year-old Williston Park resident Theodore “Theo” Czubakowski. The self-proclaimed philanthropist is helping to make organized sports more accessible for all children through his non-profit organization, Hoopz Lyfe.
Czubakowski got the idea for his organization while coaching for what he calls the “biggest basketball program in America”— the Long Island Lightning. While working at the Lightning organization, Czubakowski noticed families struggled to pay the $1,000 fee per season.
“When I was coaching for them, there was one boy who was really good,” said Czubakowski, who played basketball at Chaminade High School worked as a personal trainer for eight years. “He could have definitely had a future in playing [basket]ball, but the organization wouldn’t let him play because he couldn’t pay. I told them I would not get paid if the kid could play instead, but they told me no.”
Frustrated by the response, Czubakowski decided to start his own organization, Hoopz Lyfe, in March 2018. It provides underprivileged youth from areas including Roslyn and East Hills the opportunity to engage in an organized basketball league. The motto of the company is, “We strive to give kids at least an opportunity by making our program affordable” with the goal of “hosting tournaments, exposure events and teams and creating a platform for players and parents to achieve their goals.”
The assistant coach for the Under-17 team and parent of a player, Alex Pinto, believes that Czubakowski is making great changes for the Nassau County community. “Theo’s drive and dedication of making Hoopz Lyfe basketball a name in Nassau County is second to none,” Pinto said. “Theo has given some underprivileged kids a chance to play a sport that they love by sponsoring them.”
Pinto added: “Theo as a coach and director of Hoopz Lyfe will be a staple in Nassau County communities for a long time with his hard work and dedication.”
Czubakowski acts as the general manager of each team. “I coach when I can make it but I have a coach to help me with each team,” he said.
Czubakowski said, “Everyone charges an arm and a leg.” Hoopz Lyfe provides parents with a much more affordable way to let their children play organized sports.
“We only charge $400 to join the league,” explained Czubakowski. “That lets the kids play in a bunch of tournaments and get coached to improve their skills.”
Additionally, children from underprivileged neighborhoods who cannot afford to pay are eligible for scholarships. Currently, eight players in the Hoopz Lyfe organization are sponsored by parents as well as Theo himself and pay nothing at all to play organized basketball.
“My goal is to have 50 percent of the players be sponsored over the next year,” said Czubakowski. “Kids should get to play [basket]ball and their parents shouldn’t be burdened with paying for it.”
Czubakowski takes a small salary from the money he makes but mostly reinvests what he makes back into the players and the organization. “I quit my accounting job for this,” said Czubakowski, who has an accounting degree from Siena College and is working towards achieving his Master’s degree and becoming a CPA. He also works as a certified referee which helps him financially. “I like helping people so I choose to do it,” he said. “This is more important [than making money].”
Czubakowski thinks Hoopz Lyfe has been a success so far and is only continuing to grow.
“Two years ago, I had one team, he said. “Last year, I had two teams. This year I have 10 teams and we are only expanding more.” Hoopz Lyfe has acquired over 75 players since its start, ranging between the ages of eight and 17. All teams are travel teams and high school teams travel from state to state year-round with most practices being held at Island Garden in West Hempstead.
Hoopz Lyfe has even attracted attention from other states.
“We have a player from Connecticut,” said Czubakowski. “He can’t get the opportunity like this one to play where he’s from so they’re [the boy’s family] willing to drive two hours to Long Island to play in games.”
Next summer, Czubakowski has plans to start a varsity team that can travel to different states to play and gain greater experience. “I’m planning to bring a team to Europe to play in an international competition in summer 2020,” said Czubakowski. “The more experience you get, the better you’ll be.”
Czubakowski’s goal is to have as many of his players accepted to college to play basketball. Last year, he accomplished his goal with two players being awarded basketball scholarships. “The most rewarding part is getting that phone call that a kid got into college and can go because they got money to play,” said Czubakowski.
But Czubakowski adds that developing players’ basketball skills is not his main priority.
“It’s not about basketball, it’s about keeping these kids out of trouble,” he said.
Czubakowski told the story of his past basketball coach who had been arrested five times in three years.
“He was a good guy who made some bad choices and got himself in some pretty bad trouble,” said Czubakowski, who aspires to act as a role model to the players he coaches.
“I drive to pick them up when they call me and need a ride,” he said. “I’ll drop anything to make sure they don’t make life-changing mistakes. I want them to look up to me and not hesitate to call.”
To help keep players on the right track, Czubakowski often imparts life advice with basketball lessons.
He tells them to be selfless and not have an ego: “Bring your game, not your name.” He spreads a message of positivity to his players, emphasizing the fact that their pasts do not define them. He says, “Let go of who you were, realize who you are and look forward to who you will become.”
Dave Lindsay, the father of Czubakowski’s first-ever student, has witnessed first hand the positive influence he’s had on players.
“Theo is a real authentic person,” said Lindsay. “He has really been more than a coach to my son. He’s someone my wife and I can really trust completely. He’s like our family.”
Lindsay added: “He’s been a positive resource to my son since he was 5 years old when he introduced him to the game. Now my son plays on a Double-A travel team and is only getting better and better.”