New book chronicles tragic, triumphant Perham team
Lynn Hummel has no trouble recalling the exact day he got "The Idea." It was like a lightbulb lit up over his head that day - the day he decided to write a book about Perham.
It was April 8, 2011. Less than two weeks after the Perham High School boys basketball team won the Minnesota State AA Championship.
Less than two weeks after Zach Gabbard's surprise appearance on the Williams Arena court after a life-changing cardiac arrest earlier in the season.
Less than two weeks after the murder-suicide of the sweet, 15-year-old Speech competitor, Tabby Belmonte, and her boyfriend, Dylan Cox.
It had been a season of terrible, and incredible, ups and downs for the community. The little town of less than 3,000 people was all over the news; suddenly it seemed everyone was talking about Perham.
Hummel, a long-time writer, basketball fan and resident of Detroit Lakes, had been keeping a close eye on everything going on in Perham. Especially impressed with the way the community came together in the face of adversity, he thought, "This is a story that ought to be told. Somebody needs to write this."
That somebody turned out to be him.
After approaching a few other local writers to see if they'd be interested, Hummel realized he was the only man for the job -- everyone else said they just didn't have the time or ambition to write a book right then.
Besides, Hummel had always wanted to write a novel. A retired lawyer, he'd been writing a weekly newspaper column for decades (the "Pony Express," as it's known in Minnesota, or "The Dakota Kid," as it's called in North Dakota). He had already published one book years ago, a collection of articles titled, "The Day the World Ran Out of Denim."
So, he had writing experience. He also had personal experience -- and a geographical advantage.
Over the years, Hummel would often travel the 20 miles east to visit Perham, and was familiar with the town, schools and sports teams. He followed the 2010-2011 basketball season particularly closely, and had even attended the first and final Championship games in Minneapolis.
"I thought Lynn was a great person to write this book because he cares so deeply about Zach Gabbard and his family, it's unreal," said Melissa Swenson, general manager of the East Otter Tail Focus.
Swenson was one of the first people Hummel contacted for help with publishing and publicizing the book.
"We agreed to do it," she said, "because we really believed this was a story that deserved to be told."
Once he got the 'green light,' Hummel began talking to all the "major players" of Perham -- anyone and everyone who knew anything about the notable events of the past year. He found that people were receptive to the idea of the book, and were willing to talk.
Eight months and 55 interviews later, the first week of December 2011, "One Town, One Team" was published.
The story centers on the Yellowjacket basketball team and Zach Gabbard's illness, but Hummel made sure it was, "more than a basketball book."
He already knew what he wanted to call it - he'd seen the slogan "One Town, One Team," honoring Zach, on the wrestling team's t-shirts. Thinking it described the theme of his story perfectly, he got permission to use it as the title of his book.
"One Town, One Team" is really the story of a whole community -- the community of Perham, its "School of Champions" and some inspiring individuals who helped shine a light in times of grief and chaos.
The book is not only a permanent marker of a special time in Perham's history, it's a heartfelt tribute. Hummel's writing clearly reveals his admiration for the town, the team and the people he interviewed.
It's also entirely nonfiction.
"I wanted to keep all the real drama in, without adding my own," he explained.
During his research and many travels back and forth to Perham for interviews, Hummel developed a good rapport with the community.
People were "open and encouraging," he said. "The experience was very positive."
Hummel said the caring attitudes, "goodness" and "Midwest values" that this part of the country is so well known for is found in extra hearty doses here.
"Perham probably has more of that than most places," he said. "I don't think the community reaction (to Zach's cardiac arrest) would have been the same elsewhere."
Though he discovered that writing a novel was different and more challenging for him than writing weekly columns, Hummel said he loved every minute of it, and would do it again.
"One Town, One Team" is available at the East Otter Tail Focus office in Perham, at 222 Second Avenue SE, or at the Detroit Lakes Newspapers offices, 511 Washington Ave., Detroit Lakes, as well as online at www.eastottertailcounty.com.
Cost is $15 plus tax (and shipping and handling if necessary). A portion of the proceeds goes to the Zach Gabbard Fund. For more information, call 218-346-5900.