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File photo Perham head basketball coach Dave Cresap has his eyes set on a return to the state tournament to defend the Yellowjackets' 2011 Class 2A title.

The epitome of 'Perham Pride'

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Pride has a multitude of meanings to different people, some deserved and some not. It is those who deal with tragedy and turn it to triumph that can boast best, and that is no ordinary achievement.

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If a degree of difficulty was attached to circumstances providing an opportunity to be outstanding, Perham head basketball coach and sixth grade teacher Dave Cresap's past 14 months would range from mortifying to exemplary and all stages in between.

In that time, Cresap handled the most serious of situations with a level of class and determination that culminated in extraordinary circumstances made more difficult by much of it playing out on a public stage.

Cresap saw over not just a team, but also a community that extended far beyond Perham during the 2010-11 basketball season. The story of those Yellowjackets turned to legend immediately.

"The two words that come out were roller coaster," Cresap said. "We had a lot of highs and a lot of lows."

From that wild ride to a state championship and the circumstances surrounding Zach Gabbard's health, Cresap accentuates many things he was able to learn and how the events that transpired melded into his coaching and teaching.

There's no getting away from basketball with Cresap.

The one place of solitude during the incredible run to Perham's first-ever state championship and the reuniting with a recuperating Gabbard at Williams Arena and Target Center may just have been Cresap's sixth grade classroom.

"I did explain it to the kids," Cresap said. "They were a comfort zone for me. I was able to express what was going on and they completely understood and had a lot of compassion. They made it easy to come back because the smiles on their faces made me relax and realize there's a reason for everything to happen."

Cresap describes the latter half of last season as having to deal with a life threatening turnaround event -- an event that changed a lot of people's lives.

"It changed mine to a positive," he said.

A fact that was not lost on those around him.

"During the season, I believe Dave handled a difficult set of circumstances with remarkable grace and concern for his team," Perham Athletic and Activities Director Fred Sailer said. "True leaders surface at the most difficult of times and Dave was at his very best when called upon."

Cresap certainly was called upon, but did not face the adversity that miraculously turned to jubilation, a few months later, alone.

"I have to compliment how hard my assistant coaches work, and the dedication they give, to give these kids a chance to succeed."

"Brian Schwantz will do anything I want at any time of day," Cresap said. "Craig Dahms, Tim Schmitz, Ryan Reufer and Brent Hanson for volunteering at every game, practice and watching film. You can't survive without good assistant coaches."

Every coaching staff has a base philosophy and Cresap and his staff center their players on toughness.

"We drive them pretty hard," said Cresap. "We want them to be tough mentally, tough as we can be physically and we're going to guard people to the best of our abilities."

That toughness transcends into teaching, as well. However, Cresap has a more controlled and relaxed manner when it comes to his sixth grade students.

"In many ways it's very similar," he said. "I never have rules on the chalkboard. Expectations are set for students the same as athletes. There are two things I say in my classroom: 'Have a good attitude and good effort everyday and we won't have any problems here. Be happy, smile and enjoy the times in sixth grade because they go fast.'"

Cresap has the added enjoyment and occasional stress of having watched that time pass with his son Jordan, a senior on this year's basketball team. Basketball is thoroughly a family affair for the Cresaps.

"(Jordan) picked up a ball when he was two and a half and started shooting at a Nerf hoop," said Cresap. "He still goes downstairs and plays with Carter. Athletics have been part of his life forever. The part I like about my son the most is he's a really good kid. He's nice to other people and a good student. It can also be hard at times. Sometimes, you're harder on your own son than other players. He knows what I expect from him."

Carter, Cresap's other son, is in fifth grade and is looking forward to possibly having his dad for a teacher next year.

"We'll see how that works out. He's a gym rat. He's been our ball boy for years. He just enjoys being around the team."

Cresap's eldest, daughter Brandi, will graduate this spring from the University of Minnesota-Morris.

She played basketball at Central Lakes College in Brainerd as a sophomore and went to the national tournament. The past two years at Morris she made more trips to the national tournament, including time spent away from the family during Perham's state run.

"She was really torn because she wanted to watch the boys play," Cresap said.

Brandi added to the family accolades by garnering an almost impossible statistic. She led all of college basketball, Division I through III, both men's and women's, in assists to turnover ratio, averaging seven assists to one turnover for the duration of the season.

For a basketball coach, finding a way to win without always having to score shows the sign of true leadership. Cresap's pride in his daughter, as a basketball player, is she is a person who did not need to score a lot to succeed.

Dave's and his wife Teri will be married 26 years this July. More than anyone, Teri provided the base of support for the past 13 months.

"She was a backbone for me to rely on. She'd listen and we'd cry together and she'd give me hug. She's a true Yellowjacket fan."

Given the nature of Cresap's full-time sacrifice to coaching and teaching, Teri would have to be a true fan and Perham has provided the place the Cresaps like to call home.

"In the last 10 years I've had opportunities to go other places. I like teaching here. It's a great community to teach and coach in. I plan on seven to eight more years of coaching."

"Dave has been a tireless worker since his arrival in Perham," Sailer said.  "Because of his leadership, we have an unprecedented number of young people playing the game and refining their skills. He has balanced basketball and his classroom responsibilities with great care and, as a result, is considered among our finest classroom teachers."

There are a couple months during the year when Cresap can find some free time away from the court and classroom.

"I like to spend some family time when we get it. About 10 months out of the year, I'm busy with youth and high school basketball. I like to fish but I don't get a lot of time. I do read a lot of books on leadership."

Even in the short off-season, Cresap is researching ways to motivate kids, while reading books and speeches to make kids feel good about themselves.

From that foundation, he knows success is not always up to him, whether it comes to teaching or coaching.

"A coach can only fire you up so many times. Our team has a motto: 'You are going to play hard, play smart and together, and have fun.'"

To boil Cresap's theory and philosophy to its most simple form, it is the ability for himself, his family, his students and athletes to be able to look in the mirror at the end of class, a game, or just the end of the day and be comfortable in the belief that you did your best.

While this theory is not far out of the ordinary, Cresap has certainly found ways to put the extra in front of it.

"I want the kids to truly believe we are winners. We set goals and expectations high to achieve the best outcome possible."

At the end of last season, Cresap took a couple months to get away. When that mandatory rest came to an end, it was back to the court on a quest to return to the state tournament with a whole new dilemma.

The defending state champs are missing a full-time Gabbard, Sam Stratton, who transferred to Fargo, and Jordan Hein, who is injured and out for the remainder of the season.

The road could have been far easier than the current course. But none of that seems to affect Cresap. He takes it all in stride, like a welcome opportunity.

"There are a lot of kids, like Jordan Anderson, Josh Nordick, Hunter Salathe and Dan Cavanagh that didn't get to experience it first-hand. We have that extra little drive to get back there and do it again. I'll do it again. It is the best experience a kid can have."

Inside the fervor that is displayed when Cresap talks about basketball is the calm balance of what it all means in the end.

"Whether we get there or not, I'm proud."

He should be. Dave Cresap's ongoing story here in Perham is incredible and something the entire area can embrace and cheer on with pride -- a healthy pride.

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Robert Williams
Robert has been the Sports Editor for the Focus since 2010 covering multiple state and national championship teams and is a mainstay at state tournaments each season covering the successful, athletic programs of Perham and New York Mills High Schools.
(218) 346-5900 x223
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