Childhood friends raising money, awareness through ‘hoop’ event

Teams to play basketball to help the victim of a car crash.

When a traffic accident took the life of Michael Sanchez and left Gabriel Maynoldi a quadriplegic, Julio De La Mata and his friends had trouble coping with the tragedy.

They attended Sanchez’s funeral services and the annual mass honoring him, but found it difficult to leave the tragedy behind as they tried to go forward with their lives.

Then last year De La Mata and his buddies realized they wanted to honor their fallen friends and organized the Hoop4Hope event, a three-on-three basketball tournament.

“I decided with my business partner, Javier Perez, it’s time to turn our focus and our attention,” De La Mata said. “We should do what we can for Gaby. Last year was an enormous success.”

The basketball event took place at St. Kevin’s Catholic Church and was so successful that this year it is being held on Aug. 4 at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. The cost to enter is $150 per team.

“Now it’s a one day event, maybe next year, if we get a large crowd, a two day event,” he says.

“Last year we had some big sponsors. We had Norwegian Cruise Lines, Hard Rock, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Sports Authority. We expect support from all again. Last year we had 150 participating and 500 spectators showed up.”

This year they are expecting 300 participants and 1,000 spectators.

While De La Mata is reluctant to talk about the accident because there still are lawsuits pending, he does say it was one of Miami’s worst. The boys had left a party in the Kendale Lakes area, near the golf course and their car ended up wrapped around a tree.

The money raised will go toward purchasing a wheelchair accessible van for Maynoldi’s use.

“Basically we have it within reach,” De La Mata said. “It’s going to be very possible for us to get it done.”

Putting on Hoop4Hope has changed De La Mata’s life for the better. He says giving back to the community helped him find himself.

He and his partner started the Giving Much More (GMM) Foundation. The initials come from Mike, the friend that passed away, Mack, his partner’s little brother who also died in an accident on the way back from Disney World, and Gaby, their friend who is quadriplegic.

“Since this is our second year, everything is generated toward Gaby,” De La Mata said. “This is just a stepping stone for the future.”

He said they are starting with the basketball tournaments but one day they hope to also produce kickball or flag football tournaments.

“After that, maybe galas, silent auctions, things like that that the community wants going on,” he said. “We’re going to be opening up the doors and look for other families [to help] — people who have been affected, as we have, by accidents. Young people are dying in cars. Not from drinking and driving, it’s from being young and dumb.”

De La Mata said the accident that claimed his friend’s life caused a lot of dark years in his life.

“It changed my life in the negative. You don’t have to go to the dark,” he said. “Other families could contact us and tell us their stories.”

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