There’s a famous quote, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take your breath away.” For the teammates and coaches of Zack Arguin’s football, basketball and baseball teams, that message hits home and holds real meaning.
A senior and member of the Amesbury High School athletic community for four years in all three sports, Arguin is far from the star three-sport athlete. He is a special education student with a cognitive intellectual disability — not a medical diagnosis like autism or Down syndrome — that struggles with his short-term working memory and processing speed. This means many things that come second nature to most students take Arguin far longer to pick up and some things he won't be able to comprehend.
Overcoming his hardship to be on the athletic fields with his teammates and friends on an everyday basis, Arguin has never had delusions of grandeur that one day he would be the starting running back for the football team or a rotational guard for the basketball team or even a defensive replacement for the baseball team. The goals instead sound simplistic, but are an honorable pursuit — to soak up the experience of being a contributing member of his teams, do his part to be the best teammate he can be, and enjoy every precious minute of playing time that comes his way.
"He just loves it when he can contribute to the team and do his part and be able to get into the game even for just a few plays or a few minutes," said Arguin's mother, Lisa Thompson, adding being part of the AHS athletic community has been a wonderful experience for her son. "It validates that he's a contributing member of the team."
In appreciation for that level of commitment, his football teammates, headed by captains Jesse Lannon and Sam Kelcourse, came up with a new award at the end of the season to give to Arguin — the "Awesome Teammate" award.
"It was a team-based thing. I talked to the football team, and we thought it would be a good idea to recognize Zack for all he's done for the team," said Lannon. "Basically, it was an outstanding teammate award, and we got him a plaque to recognize what he's done for the team.
"He keeps us laughing and smiling through the whole season, and he's given us a lot of strength over the past four years, a real good story because he loves the sport," continued Lannon. He added that while Arguin was quiet, he often could make his teammates laugh at the snap of a finger with the pranks and jokes he played on his teammates and coaches.
"He never gets down," Lannon said. "No matter what, he's going 100 percent. That's something I admire and everyone on the football team, we look to him for strength, an example of what we should be doing even when times get tough — 'play like Zack, he goes 100 percent every practice.'
"No matter what he does after high school, he'll keep making people smile and bring joy to a lot of people because he's got a lot going for him based on his character, which is really admirable and an inspiration to a lot of us," Lannon said. "I couldn't have asked for anything more. He made football for us."
Most recently, the Indians basketball team finished a difficult 4-15 on the hardwood, but once again there was Arguin in the middle of things to lift his teammates' spirits after a trying season to provide perspective and inspiration.
Unlike football, where Arguin was able to find more playing time as an offensive linemen where eye-hand coordination was not as much of an issue and he could more easily handle the physical nature of the sport, basketball was a more difficult game for the senior, according to Thompson. Playing time was limited, and Arguin had previously played in only one game going into the final game of the season against Newburyport two weeks ago.
With time running out and the Indians trailing by double digits, and the Amesbury student section of fans began chanting, "We want Arguin, we want Arguin." They were rewarded not only with his entrance into the game, but with Amesbury's final two points of the season — a jump shot just inside the free throw line.
"As a senior in this last game, I was going to make it a point that I got him in," said Thom Connors, who coached Arguin in both football and basketball. "I had told the Newburyport coach prior to the game that I wanted to make sure I got him in the game. I had even told the officials and the officials were great, they were like, 'Look, we've got to get him a basket too.'
"I think it was real important to him, but it was just as important to the rest of my guys on my team, who were really psyched and really wanted him to get in the game and score a point," Connors continued. "Here we are at the end of the season and playing Newburyport, which is always a huge game and one we are probably going to lose by eight to 10 points, and it just changed the whole finish of the season. Everything got changed within that last 30 seconds when Zack got the ball.
"We got him into the game, he finally took a couple of shots, the kids kept getting rebounds and dishing it out to him to make sure that he did score before his senior season was over. My kids emptied the bench and went out and grabbed him and congratulated him that he scored."
Bringing a tear or two to his parents' eyes, it was another moment Arguin's mother said has made for a lifetime of special memories his senior year.
"Fortunately, there were so many of us in the stands and we were just over the moon for him. We were hoping and hoping, he's a senior, it's his last game, is Thom going to get him into the game?" said Thompson of the suspense. "And we were hoping and hoping, time was running down. Usually there's a whole section of Amesbury kids, and all the sudden they started chanting, 'We want Arguin. We want Arguin.'
"I looked over at the bench, and he just got so self-conscious, he was ready to go in and psyched," Thompson continued. "It was a huge moment for him. He got in the book, he made a contribution."
According to the coach on the opposite sidelines, Tom L'Italien, it was an easy decision. Several years ago in his other coaching gig with the Pentucket baseball team, L'Italien was able to reward one of his own special education students, Michael Kennefick, with the opportunity to score a run during one of the Sachems' final games — a moment that made Kennefick's season. L'Italien and his Newburyport team were more than willing to help accommodate Arguin's moment in the spotlight.
"It was nice for everyone in the gym and was really neat watching the entire crowd erupt, it was awesome," L'Italien said. "It's nice to have a healthy perspective on high school athletics. Watching that boy score ranks right up there with one of the better moments of high school sports that I've been a part of. Thom deserves a lot of credit for keeping that boy involved for four years and for the entire situation to unfold the way it did."
Speaking from his own experience, L'Italien said Connors and Arguin will likely share a special bond.
"You'll always have a connection player to coach," L'Italien said. "Even last year in the North (basketball) semifinals (when Pentucket played Newburyport), Michael Kennefick's got his Pentucket jersey on and I spotted him in the crowd, he came over and gave me a big hug. It's just a connection I'll always have with Michael and you know it's a connection Thom will have with Zack. It's a real neat thing from a coaching perspective, something you don't plan for, something you don't map out, but when it happens it's the spontaneity of the moment that makes it so special and a neat feeling to be a part of from a coach to a player."
Perhaps setting the example for so many athletes in the future, Connors said he has thoroughly enjoyed his time as Arguin's coach.
"He's been a great influence on our athletic programs because he loves being there every day, he loves the guys, going to the pasta parties, being a part of the team has been a thrill (for him)," Connors said. "We can all learn a lesson from a guy like Zack that comes every day and tries hard, and gives it his best shot knowing that he may or may not get into a game. He has an unwavering dedication, and he's helped motivate our guys."