Wheelchair Rugby a SMASH hit for second year in row

Michael Yganez

For the second year in a row HPOU board members participated in the Wheelchair Rugby SMASH tournament hosted by the Adaptive Athletics program at the University of Houston Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

The event took place on Nov. 15. Captained by HPD Assistant Chief Charlie Vasquez, HPOU fielded two teams of players consisting of the board members and family participants.

Twelve teams participated, each team fielding a minimum of four and maximum of eight players who competed in several 30-minute games in wheelchairs specifically designed for this rugby-inspired event and which protect the players with their hard metal bodies. Hence, the term “Smash” or “Murderball” as it’s referred to by more avid players. The term came from the 2005 movie of the same name about paraplegics who play full contact rugby.

“Smash” is the definitive word for these athletes, inclusive is the other word” according to Sergio Brereda, student and co-founder of the Adaptive Athletics program. Athletes and participants from area businesses with emphasis on the medical business community fielded most of the teams as well as co-workers, families and UH fraternities and sororities.

Coaches for these teams consisted of             dedicated players of the sport who because of a natural birth defect or some traumatic injury later in life or for one reason or another termed physically handicapped. After a few minutes on the court,  most able-bodied persons (“AB’s”) feel they are the ones who are handicapped as some of these coach/athletes are of national and para-Olympic caliber. They even excel in other sports besides rugby.

The two HPOU teams were “The Badge” and “HPOU2” and consisted of Assistant Chief Charles Vasquez, HPOU Vice President Doug Griffith, board members Will Reiser, Rebecca Gunderson-Dallas, Terry Wolfe, Joseph Castaneda, Rosalinda Ybanez, Luis Menendez-Sierra, Robert Sandoval, Nancy Jones and family members Michael “Mikey” Ybanez, and Susan Griffith and Steve Marino (HCSO).

With their goals set on winning the competition, both teams played hard against other equally determined teams and despite their best efforts, they came out fifth and sixth respectfully. The top finishers were:

First place – Texas Obesity Research Center

Second place – UT Health and Human performance

Third place – Humana

Humana was the name sponsor for the SMASH tournament.  HPOU sponsored the luncheon awards ceremony and did manage to come away with the “Best Sportsmanship” award in recognition of a stellar performance, dedication and sportsmanship during the tournament.

The competition fielded several older teams and some newer teams with more teams expected for next year’s tournament. Each team contributed $300 as a participant fee to help with tournament cost. All team coaches were from the TIRR Texans Quad Rugby Team.

Thanks to the friendship and camaraderie exhibited during the tournament, one coach in particular, triple amputee Joseph Montemayor, was invited to speak to the HPOU December Board meeting where his confidence and demeanor thoroughly impressed the board to the tune of a $500 contribution to help him defray cost for his travels to state and national competitions promoting opportunities for athletes and students with disabilities.

HPOU President Ray Hunt presented the check to Montemayor at the Memorial City Mall ice skating rink on Dec. 8 where Channel 26 reporter Isiah Carey was present to feature a news segment highlighting the remarkable athletic abilities of Montemayor and his athletic skills at Sled Ice Hockey, which along with the wheelchair rugby is one of the sports that Montemayor excels in to the level of near Olympic caliber. He is the only triple amputee in the nation invited in recent years to play in a post-game charity event with the Boston Bruins.

Hunt said, “Joseph is a true inspiration to all of us and we will continue to support him and other athletes like him by partnering with the Adaptive Athletics Organization for the foreseeable future.”