This Houston Team -- Unlike the Texans, Rockets, Etc. -- Is Number One

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For the past few years, a Houston-based team has quietly produced college-basketball talent for prestigious school like the universities of Arizona, Alabama and Oklahoma.

The elite squad has traveled all over the country, owning the competition in tournaments in places like Philadelphia.

And this year, the team obtained a number-one ranking for the first time in its 15-year existence.

In other words, a bandwagon, unlike the Texans', with a payoff.

Since 1997, The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) Hotwheels team has competed in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Junior's Division. Led by Genny Gomez, a disability sports therapist at TIRR Memorial Hermann and the team's head coach for the past five years, the Hotwheels have come a long way since inception.

Gomez wasn't around during the early days, when, in her own words, the adaptive sports program at TIRR Memorial Hermann was in a state of deterioration.

"Hotwheels was the only team in the program," says Gomez, who had previously played basketball but hadn't coached before. She says she got up to speed by applying skills she learned in basketball as well as participating in Team USA clinics.

In Gomez's second year, five of the Hotwheels' players were given scholarships to play college ball at one of the 13 schools -- such as OU, the University of Texas-Arlington and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater -- that field collegiate wheelchair teams.

This year, the team, comprised of students aged eight to 18, ascended to the top-dog spot in the junior's league.

Additionally, TIRR's adaptive sports program now includes competitive golf, rugby, swimming, golf and others.

"The most fun thing is that these kids are able to compete. The most challenging," Gomez jokes, "is dealing with high-school kids." Players must attend twice-a-week practices and meet baseline academic requirements to participate.

The team, currently funded by TIRR Memorial Hermann, has already cemented a spot in the NWBA National Competition in Louisville, Kentucky, scheduled to take place from April 17 through April 21.

Before that, they'll host the Southwest Conference Championships, set for March 16 and 17 at the Pearland Recreation Center and Natatorium, 4141 Bailey Road in Pearland. For more information, check out the TIRR Memorial Hermann and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association websites.

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