Edinburg first responders host Straps Stars basketball team

Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres presents a challenge coin to Morgan Huizar, 15, of San Antonio, on Saturday at the Edinburg Parks and Recreation Wellness Center. Francisco E. Jimenez | The Monitor

The Edinburg police and fire departments hosted the First Responders Match-Up on Saturday at the Edinburg Parks and Wellness Center.

The event featured the Straps Stars, a basketball team based out of San Antonio that’s composed of players who are in wheelchairs, competing against members of the local police and fire departments.

The team, made up of teenagers from different parts of South and Central Texas, has competed in tournaments throughout the state, as well as other parts of the United States. It was at one of these tournaments in New Braunfels that the idea to host the team in Edinburg came about.

“About six months ago, Edinburg PD was invited to New Braunfels to go play with the kids. Four of our officers went over there,” Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres said. “We had so much fun that we thought we’d bring it down here to the city of Edinburg.”

A team of police and firefighters competed against the Straps Stars. According to Torres, it did not go well for the first responders.

“They killed us,” Torres said with a laugh. “They were so good. It’s priceless. It’s very priceless spending time with these kids. Of course, we want to bring awareness. We want the sport to grow. It’s important that we bring awareness to the program and we build our bond with the kids.”

Torres said that the event benefits the team for travel expenses.

“We’re raising money and funds so that the kids, whenever they travel all over the United States, they won’t have to pay out of pocket,” Torres said. “Obviously the kids are very good at what they do. It was embarrassing. They really beat us, but what’s important here is not that we lost. It’s the bond building with the kids.”

Elicia Meairs, 14, of San Antonio has been competing with the Straps Stars for three years. She said that she hopes to come back to Edinburg and play against the first responders again next year.

“We went up against the first responders of Edinburg, the police department and fire department. It was really, really fun,” Meairs said. “I have been playing wheelchair basketball for two seasons. I love it. ‘Like’ is really an understatement. I love it. It really keeps me active.”

Mari Lara of Edinburg is the mother of Anthony Lara, who is a member of the Straps Stars. She said that she is happy to see the team come to the Valley and bring awareness to the sport of wheelchair basketball.

Members of the Straps Stars practice with their coach Nakia Merritte on Saturday at the Edinburg Parks and Wellness Center. Francisco E. Jimenez | The Monitor

“(Anthony) has been participating for four years with Straps Stars. It makes him feel that he is as capable as his older siblings,” Mari said. “One of the things that he said when he started playing and competing is that now he knew what it felt like to be on the court and be competitive.”

Mari’s husband, Joe, is a police officer with Edinburg police. He was instrumental in helping to bring the game back to Edinburg.

“Back in October, we went to San Marcos because over there they have this every year,” Mari said. “So when a couple of police officers from Edinburg went up there, they came back and talked about it. The chief wanted to do something down here, and here we are today.”