by Hale Hughes
Last week, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) held their national tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. The tournament consists of six classifications in which only the top 16 teams are allowed to compete. Teams must qualify for this tournament by winning a qualifier tournament or have a highly coveted invitation.
The Hot Wheels team, based out of Houston was one of the few teams that earned their place at the tournament by winning the Atlanta, Georgia tournament earlier this year. The Hot Wheels are coached by Trice Ham who has high expectations for his players on and off the court. Ham, although not governed by the UIL, holds his players to the same standards enforced by the UIL, and will bench any player not passing all his or her classes. The NWBA is a co-ed association and girls play right next to the boys. The wheelchair is the great equalizer and any gender strengths or weaknesses are balanced once the players take the court.
Kesean Paire, Garrett Castillo and Carrington Marendes are three young men from Woodville who compete for the Hot Wheels Team in the Junior/Varisity division and are sponsored by TIRR Herman Memorial Hospital. These three young men sacrifice a great deal to be a part of the Hot Wheels organization by traveling to Houston each Tuesday for practice and then traveling all over the nation on the weekends to play. Some of the recent places these young men have traveled to are Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Illinois. Paire and Castillo are new to the game this year, but Marendes has been playing for a few years now and has found a great deal of success in the past, winning the national title a few years ago and being named to the First Team All-Star National Tournament team last year.
The Hot Wheels played in the Exposition Center in Louisville last weekend and finished fifth, losing only one game to the eventual champion by a close six points. According to Tony Castillo, it was the only game that the eventual champions were seriously challenged as they went on to win the tournament by beating other teams by significant margins, usually by 20 or more points. The Hot Wheels didn't lose another game and finished with a 33-4 record for the year that saw them ranked as high as third in the nation this year.
Another highlight for the Hot Wheels team this year was that they were able to meet with the Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball team just before they traveled to the Olympics and bringing back the gold medal. There's a great deal of pride, self-worth, accomplishment and integrity that bonds these players together, regardless of team and much respect is shared among the players. There is a great comradery built amongst the players and the best players are recognized for their efforts.
College scouts were at the Louisville tournament looking for players that fit the leadership mold that their respective schools are looking for that have the talent and desire to take their game to the next level after high school. Several of these scouts spoke with the Woodville players and are anticipating great things from these three young men in the coming years.