Cougars Special Tie With Team IMPACT

HOUSTON – The University of Houston Athletics Department added its latest Team IMPACT signee on Tuesday afternoon as the Men’s Basketball program welcomed 10-year-old Jace Abarca to the program as part of a Letter of Intent signing and press conference inside the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility .

Abarca is just the latest Team IMPACT signee to sign the dotted line for the Houston Cougars. The non-profit organization has developed a unique multiyear program that matches children facing serious illnesses and disabilities with college athletic teams across the country.

“We are incredibly grateful for our partnerships with Team IMPACT over the years and especially the growth we have seen in the program over the past two and a half years,” Houston Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academics & Compliance Lauren DuBois said. “Our match up specialists at Team IMPACT, like Abby Connor, do a fantastic job of matching our teams with children who will be great teammates for us. Each partnership is truly a life changing experience for the families, our student-athletes, and the staff involved as we make long-term commitments to new members of our teams and our Houston Cougar family.”

In Nov. 2014, Houston Track and Field signed Maycie Gonzalez, a 12-year-old diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retinas, to a letter of intent as part of a special signing day inside the Carl Lewis Auditorium. During Feb. 2017, Zamya Sumling, a 13-year-old battling Juvenile Dermatomyositis, a neuromuscular disease, signed and joined the Houston Volleyball Team.

For Houston Men’s Basketball, the Team IMPACT addition was the second under Head Coach Kelvin Sampson. The Cougars welcomed 9-year-old Nicholas Hickey to the 2017-18 team when the Cypress, Texas, native became the newest Cougar.

More recently, Vinny Robins, a 17-year-old senior at Barbers Hill High School, became an honorary Cougar ahead of Houston Football’s 2021 season. The Cougars rolled out the red carpet for an unofficial visit on July 15, highlighted by a tour of athletic facilities, a photo shoot, reps on the bench press bar and a meeting with the entire team.

According to former Houston Football student-athlete and current strength intern Shane Creamer, supporting Vinny was both rewarding and eye-opening.

“When we met Vinny, he was in the middle of fighting what he was going through,” Creamer said. “He was already very weak and tired but there would be moments where he would be energetic and talkative. In both moments, he was a unique person. He still chose to go about things with a positive mindset. It was inspiring to us. We were going through tough conditioning, and it was nothing compared to what he was going through. He was a huge motivation for us and he was a pleasure to be around.”

Houston Men’s Basketball becomes the third active program to participate alongside Team IMPACT for the 2022-23 athletic calendar year, joining the Houston Soccer and Houston Swimming & Diving programs. For Swimming & Diving, the partnership began last fall with Emilia who had her own signing day ceremony, attended the program’s recognition at a Houston Men’s Basketball game and built relationships with the team through regular lunch outings and activities.

“It’s been great to see how much our girls care about Emilia and how much they are invested in helping her,” Houston Swimming & Diving Assistant Coach Allan McCallum said. “I know this has been important for her family. It’s been a win-win for both our team and her. The signing day ceremony was a neat thing to be a part of. It was special to be a part of with how much it meant to her and her parents. It was a special day for our program.”

Houston Soccer welcomed Bella to its program this summer. The 11-year-old who was recently diagnosed with cancer, has participated in weekly Zoom calls and virtual games with a committee of 10 members of the program as she’s received treatments with the hopes of strengthening the bond in-person soon.

“What we have done through Team IMPACT is include Bella and make her feel a part of the university and the team through building friendships to get her through this time,” Houston Soccer Assistant Coach Brett O’Connor said. “She was recently released from the hospital which is exciting. We have a Zoom call with her today to find out when she can come on campus, come to a game and have a signing party for her with balloons and things like that.”

Founded in 2011, Team IMPACT has matched more than 2,300 children with 700+ colleges and universities in 49 states, impacting more than 60,000 student-athletes. For more information and to support Team IMPACT, please visit teamimpact.org.