By Steve Jones
When the Loyola University men's lacrosse team won the school's first national Division I championship, the most memorable congratulatory hug coach Charley Toomey received wasn't from a player or a coach. Instead, it was athletic training aide Darren Artuso leaping into the coach's arms immediately after Loyola's 9-3 title-game victory against the University of Maryland May 28.
"As soon as the game ended, I'm taking it all in," said Toomey, who coached the Greyhounds to an 18-1 season. "I turn around, and here's Darren coming on a full sprint and jumping into my arms. It's a moment I'll never forget."
Artuso's embrace of Toomey was captured by an ESPN sideline camera and broadcast all over the country. Suddenly, he went from a behind-the-scenes worker to the talk of the town.
"His Facebook account blew up, and the whole thing just took off when that happened," said Joe Artuso, Darren's father and Loyola's head athletic trainer since 1986. "At that moment, he really felt that he was part of something big."
Many people in Darren's life had already made him feel that way. Darren was born with Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that is characterized by developmental delays and learning disabilities. People with the condition tend to be social, friendly and endearing, which are all traits Darren embodies.
Darren, a 2003 graduate of Westminster High School, has spent his life in sports. He started playing soccer at age 5, and continued to play the game in the Westminster Recreation Council leagues through high school. Darren also participated in a therapeutic horseback riding program for two years.
After Darren graduated from high school, Loyola associate athletic director Teddi Byrnes hired him to work for the Greyhounds. He served as a manager with the Loyola women's basketball team, and has worked in the equipment room and the athletic training department.
"It was a great opportunity to work at a place that's different from any other," Darren said. "I have the best job. The people here made me feel like Loyola was a home away from home. The best part about working here is getting to meet nice people."
Although Darren's work supports all of Loyola's athletic teams, he is especially passionate about men's lacrosse. Toomey and his staff take Darren on road trips and include him in team meals and meetings.
"I grew up in this locker room, and was used to having Darren around when he was a kid," said Toomey, who played for the Greyhounds from 1987-90. "Darren is what Loyola is all about. He's a family member of this team."
Darren's affinity for the Loyola lacrosse program comes from a genuine love of the sport.
"He talks about lacrosse all the time," said his mother, Gretchen Artuso. "They treat Darren like he's one of them, as an equal. They even took him to Europe a few years ago."
Darren is on the sidelines at every men's lacrosse game, and made some special memories when the Greyhounds went to Foxborough, Mass., in May for NCAA championship weekend. Darren worked in the home stadium of his favorite football team, the New England Patriots, and had the chance to exchange greetings with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He also traveled with his father to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox, his favorite baseball team.
But the most thrilling part came Monday afternoon, when the Greyhounds defeated Maryland during the title game.
"It was nerve-racking during both games," Darren said. "We were only up by one at halftime against Notre Dame, and Maryland scored first. But winning the championship was like a dream come true for everyone at Loyola. It's good times when you win a national championship."
Joe said he was still inspired by his son's enthusiasm for the Loyola job.
"It's a blessing," said Joe, who drives Darren to Loyola. "For him, it's like going to Disneyland every day. He's up and ready to go to work before I am."
More Cheap Seats:
• Stettinius Aims For Olympic Gold In Little-Known Pentathlon Events
• Carroll Group Studies Concussion Awareness
• Darren's Dream Comes True In Loyola Victory
• Lacrosse Excellence Is Ian Shure's Goal
• Campbell Sees Better Future For Mustangs
• Heist Is No Shakespeare, But He Has Writing Prize
Issue 175: July 2012