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HOPE IN HOOPS: Gabbard works his way back after on-court collapse

Perham senior Zach Gabbard, left, warms up during practice as Carter Cresap watches on Wednesday in Perham. Gabbard has been cleared by doctors to play in games, though it's up to his coach as to when that will happen. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Perham's Zach Gabbard

Perham, Minn. - Picture day. It's the day where you either look your best or your worst. No matter how much you may change, it's a moment in time showing what you looked like.

The Perham High School boys basketball team had its picture day Wednesday. It's something Zach Gabbard probably won't be forgetting any time soon.

Moments like this mean more to Gabbard these days. He collapsed last January from cardiac arrest, undergoing several procedures to save his life.

The procedures worked. They helped him make an appearance at last spring's Minnesota state tournament, a highlight of a tournament Perham ended up winning.

It's a memory many from Perham have etched in their minds. Not Gabbard. Why? Because his last memory was playing in a summer basketball tournament in Las Vegas, months before he collapsed.

"It's still bad, it's still bad," Gabbard said of his memory loss. "The frustration, it's not there anymore. It's gone away."

Gabbard turned 18 years old on Tuesday. He did nothing special. On Wednesday, he planned to go to Fargo to buy new basketball shoes.

Maybe those will be what he wears if and when he makes his return. Gabbard, a senior, recently went to California and was cleared by a doctor to resume playing basketball.

Even with the clearance, there's caution. Perham head coach Dave Cresap said he and his staff are pacing Gabbard during practices.

"It's been a hard thing for me because I want him so bad to be back out there and play the game he loves," Cresap said. "We take it day-by-day and see how fast his strength comes back. It's been tough and trying, but we have a lot of support."

Gabbard practices for only 10 to 15 minutes. He'll run a little with his teammates. He'll work on his shot and free throws. But that's it.

Cresap and Gabbard both admit he's not there yet. Physically, his build is different than that of his teammates, who are a bit more filled out and more muscular.

Gabbard has gained muscle, looking different than when he showed up to the state tournament in a wheelchair.

"It's amazing, it's truly amazing" Gabbard said. "It's amazing to be back. I just love basketball."

Gabbard's love for basketball is evident. He was in the gym working on his shooting weeks before Perham practiced.

His shooting stroke is back to where it once was when he was the team's leading scorer.

Now, it is about getting his body back to where it once was, back to when he was able to run down the court with ease and nail a pull-up jumper.

He realizes it won't be easy. And in case he needs a reminder, Cresap will be there.

"I am going to be the one who makes the decision on when he comes back and no one else," Cresap said. "If he's strong enough, I'll think about it."

Cresap and Perham athletic director Fred Sailer have both made the following message extremely clear: Gabbard is a basketball player, not a sideshow.

He won't be on the court for the sake of it. He'll be on the court if he can help the team win games and return to the state tournament.

This Friday, Perham, ranked No. 2 team in Class 2A, hosts rival Pelican Rapids, which is ranked No. 1. Gabbard will suit up and sit on the bench.

But Cresap said Gabbard will not play. That's just fine with Gabbard.

"It's good," Gabbard said. "I feel much safer knowing it's like that."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark's Force blog can be found at