PERHAM -- Zach Gabbard walked into the Comet Theater in downtown Perham at 6:25 p.m. Thursday. He was with some of his basketball teammates, and the teenagers were all wisecracks and smiles. The scene was sweet. Everything was perfect. Just like it should be.
The last time the outside world saw Zach walk, it was a mesmerizing, inspirational, tearful moment. On March 26 he got up out of his wheelchair and slapped hands with the rest of the Yellowjackets as the players were introduced before the Class 2A state semifinals at Target Center. A day earlier, Zach had left a St. Paul hospital to be reunited with the team at Williams Arena before the quarterfinal round.
You know the story: Zach, a junior, suffered cardiac arrest during a late-January game at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton … life-saving measures were performed and he was rushed to a hospital in Fargo … after several touch-and-go days he was transferred to a hospital at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and later to a rehabilitation hospital in St. Paul. Progress was slow.
Zach watched from the sidelines as the Yellowjackets won their first two games at state, but he was not at the championship game. His blood pressure was too high that day, and his doctors did not allow him to leave the hospital. Left in the hospital to watch the game on television, Zach cried.
Thursday’s event at the Comet was very special because it opened a door into the 2010-11 Perham season. “For Three,” a documentary film about the Yellowjackets, premiered at the Comet. The movie was produced by Perham assistant coach Brent Hanson.
During the film, Zach (pictured at right with head coach Dave Cresap after the premier) talks about missing the championship game. “I cried,” he said. We learn that when he walked on the court at Target Center, none of his teammates knew it was coming … they didn’t even know he was able to walk.
Hanson, who spent more than 400 hours working on the film, did a remarkable job. The movie intersperses game action throughout the season with interviews with the players and coaches. I was struck by how candid everyone was on camera, which was surely because one of the coaches was asking the questions as opposed to an outsider.
Hanson, who works as an IT technician for Becker County, created a season highlights video after the 2009-10 campaign. “I was kind of planning on doing the same thing this year, with a few interviews here and there,” he told me. “I thought it might be something the kids would really enjoy, not having any idea what path our season would take.”
Hanson spent more than 400 hours working on the film. He shot the interviews, gathered game footage, secured rights to music and did the editing at home on his iMac. “For most of it I worked from 8 o’clock at night until about 1 in the morning, then I’d get four or five hours of sleep and head to work,” he said. “I could do it in my sleep, and I think I did do it in my sleep a couple times.”
DVDs are available by going to www.brenthanson.net/forthree. They cost $20, with all proceeds being split between Zach’s medical bills and the Perham basketball team. As Hanson told the audience at the Comet before the movie began, “We had a budget of zero dollars, and we did pretty well.”
Indeed. “For Three” is a keepsake, and not just for people in Perham. Zach’s story touched people all over Minnesota and around the world; the film points out how a Caring Bridge web site devoted to Zach (he's signing an autograph in the photo at left) garnered more than half a million hits in just a few weeks’ time. The players talk about the night when Zach collapsed, and how they hugged each other and cried and prayed in the locker room.
The story is universal, with themes of heartbreak and survival, community and togetherness, teamwork and success. Every coach, every athlete and every parent -- in Minnesota and beyond -- should see it.
After the premier, Perham head coach Dave Cresap told me: “I just got goosebumps all over my body. This is a special night for everybody to be together and relive it and see what we really had to go through as a team and a community and Zach as a player, and how close-knit we are. We are a family.”
Zach, who was frightfully thin as the basketball season ended, has put on weight and looks more like his old self all the time, although his voice remains raspy. What was his reaction to the movie? “I liked it. I loved it,” he told me. What did he like the most? “(Learning) how much they cared.”
Interviews with the players provide wonderful insight into what the season meant to the Yellowjackets.
--“Heart. We had heart the whole season,” said Jordan Cresap, the coach’s son who stepped into the lineup after Zach went down. “The motivation Zach gave us really put us over the top.”
--“We couldn’t let him down,” said Jordan Bruhn.
--“We were the team that had the most hardship,” said Nick Tobkin. “We had the will, we had the motivation, we had the inspiration, we came back time after time when things were in our way. So why not us?”
Zach is allowed to shoot baskets but has not been given clearance to fully exert himself. He wants nothing more than to be back on the court when practice begins for the 2011-12 season.
During the film Zach looks into the camera and says, “We better win next year because I need another ring … not being there this year, I just want to know what it feels like to be on the court, playing.
“Why would you doubt me? I’m alive still. Why can’t I play next year?”
In Perham -- as the Yellowjackets have taught us -- anything is possible.
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