SAN ANTONIO — They met in a year of firsts. Now, it's a year of lasts for Coach Adrian Farrugia and Joaquin Zamarripa.
"We came in at the same time he was a freshman. (I was a) First-year teacher," Farrugia said. "And so getting to cross paths with him, he's going to be a memorable kid for me."
Farrugia coaches basketball and football at Holmes High School in San Antonio. He is also a special education teacher, and Zamarripa was never his student.
But he got to know Zamarripa trying to navigate the circular building at HHS.
"I'm in and out of Joaquin's class here and there," he said.
The two bonded during the pandemic, especially when fewer students were on campus.
"I was able to interact a lot more and kind of be around him," Farrugia said. "He's super loving and fun and energetic."
After three years, Farrugia thought he could transfer the 18-year-old's energy to the basketball court. Zamarripa has an infinity for the game and the players.
When asked what he likes about basketball, the Applied Learning Environment student replied, "Shoot."
Farrugia brought him on as team manager. He sits on the bench with the freshman basketball team, cheering, supporting, and even parroting the coach's commands.
Zamarripa will also warm up with the players wearing a Husky jersey to fit in.
"We have a saying – 'Your Husky fight never dies,'" Farrugia said.
His team manager is a fan favorite. In fact, his mother comes to the game to support her son hard at work, keeping the Husky pride high.
"They're a student just like anybody else over here. So I want them included," Farrugia said. "I want them involved in different sports and different groups and different activities."
Zamarripa's senior year at Holmes gave way to an opportunity to create an unforgettable senior memory. Farrugia said the plan took three months and the cooperation of their opponents from Stevens High School.
"I knew it was something that would be beneficial to him. I wanted it to be something that he could remember for his senior year," Farrugia said.
Students packed the gym for the final game of the freshman basketball season. Some holding signs proclaiming love for Joaquin.
Zamarripa got to dress out in the team uniform. As he warmed up for the game, fans called him for pictures.
Athletes from the football, basketball and softball teams joined the ROTC and dance team members to support Zamarripa.
At the beginning of the game, the teams agreed he would get the ball to score a basket. So, there he stood for the opening jump.
The team manager became a basketball player as the ball got past his way. When Zamarripa tossed up his first shot, fans in the stands were on edge.
"Ohhh," they said as he missed. But he was given another shot, and it went in, and the gym went crazy. Team members rushed to the floor and 'Big shot Joaquin.' His coach was as thrilled as the players.
"Making sure that we are using our power to do more than just, you know, come out here to try to win games, and plan practices," Farrugia said.
From the beginning, he thought Zamarripa was an excellent fit for the team.
The season ends with the coach and team manager warming up their goodbye. Zamarripa leaves HHS this summer, having scored on the court and in the heart.
"It's going to be tough being here and not getting to go and pop in that classroom and see him smile," Farrugia said.