MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The State Boys Basketball Tournament got started Wednesday morning, and Perham is back in more ways than one.
Last year, they won the Class AA state championship despite losing star player Zach Gabbard to heart problems. He made a surprise appearance at the tournament and inspired the team to the championship.
This year, he’s not looking for any surprises.
Game day is special for any team going for its second straight state championship, but it’s extra special for Perham and Gabbard.
“From almost dying, to walking on the court,” he said, “Playing basketball still means a lot.”
Gabbard was Perham’s top scorer until his heart failed. He collapsed on the court, spent months in the hospital and now has a pacemaker.
“People don’t understand what that young man went through,” said Perham coach Dave Cresap. “He was our leading scorer, a prolific scorer, and it was all gone in one night.”
Gabbard surprised his teammates by making an appearance at last year’s tournament, an inspirational moment on the way to the state championship. This year will be even better.
“This year’s state tournament I’ll be warming up,” he said. “And not just sitting in my wheelchair.”
Instead of visiting him at the hospital before their first game, he’s with them in practice and on the court.
He doesn’t have the strength or stamina to be a regular anymore, but he’ll be on the bench and maybe more.
“As a coach,” said Cresap, “That’s my dream that I can get him time.”
“I’m not hoping to get in as much as I’m hoping to win,” said Zach. “I mean I’d much rather win than get in.”
Perham plays Worthington at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Target Center. Gabbard hopes to recover even more by next year and potentially walk-on to play basketball at Minnesota State University-Moorhead.