The 2010-2011 Perham boys basketball season was viewed by thousands of perspectives from parents at every game to people from all over the country who heard of the town for the first time thanks to the many storylines that followed the team through 31 victories, one loss to a rather disliked rival Pelican Rapids squad, en route to the state championship.
Brent Hanson's "For Three" movie, which premieres tonight at The Comet Theatre, shares the unique perspectives of players and coaches shedding light on the intricacies of a group of young men dealing with the unthinkable and turning it into greatness.
The film chronicles the 32-game season but the real highlight of the movie is the insight, humor and sentiment expressed by the entire team and coaching staff, and even moreso, by Zach Gabbard, the inspirational leader of the Yellowjackets.
Perham's basketball program, under the guidance of head coach Dave Cresap, had been building to a state playoff run but a heralded 2009-10 20-win squad fell short, knocked out of the playoffs by conference foe Hawley continuing a history of program frustration.
"We made a promise to ourselves that next year at this time we're going to be playing in this championship game," Center Mark Schumacher said in the opening moments of the film.
Not having success in basketball at the state level stuck in the craw of more than just the players and this thought process is illumined in the opening seconds of the film by coach Brian Schwantz.
"We pride ourselves on excellence and you go into our gym and every banner up there is a state banner. It hurt to look up there after 16 years that we'd been working here. You'd think in the history of the school, one time, Perham basketball must have gotten to state and they hadn't," Schwantz said.
"It wasn't a part of our culture in Perham. Basketball was just another winter sport," Coach Tim Schmitz said. "We had no following and we had a lot of coaching changes in those years."
As "For Three" explains over nearly two hours of footage, that will never be the case again at Perham High School thanks to the drive and leadership of Coach Cresap and the entire Yellowjacket team.
From the nerves of the opening game at Crookston, led by Gabbard's 16 points to the steely resolve of Sam Stratton, a 41 percent free throw shooter, clinching a state semifinal game from the charity stripe and Nick Tobkin taking over in the final, the film explains in detail the long, strange trip to victory and recovery.
Perham's season consisted of many blowout wins, but the team's schedule was also spotted with ranked teams from multiple classes, including an early game against #2 Class A ranked Ellsworth and ending the regular season against #1 ranked Class A Sebeka and Class 2A ranked section foes Pequot Lakes and Pelican Rapids.
In the March 2 state rankings, Pequot Lakes was ranked fourth, Perham sixth and Pelican Rapids was tenth. The road to state, deserved or not, was not going to be an easy road for the Yellowjackets during a regular year and this season was far from normality.
"We knew we had to prove ourselves. Coming into the season we weren't really recognized," Guard Jordan Cresap said.
The tribulations surpassed by the team with the obvious effects of leading scorer Gabbard missing to finding a way to beat Hawley in overtime in the playoffs without floor leader Jordan Bruhn, who missed the game due to pneumonia, make what the team accomplished borderline unbelievable.
That is, until you hear the locker room side of the story. There was a group who always believed and had a mission to accomplish. That resolve was tested time and again.
The only blemish on Perham's record was a loss at Pelican Rapids two games after the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton game in late January when the season stopped to await news on Gabbard's health.
That loss left Perham in a tie for the Heart O' Lakes Conference title with the Vikings and there was no love lost for Pelican Rapids.
"That was (Zach's) favorite gym to shoot in," Desmine Duffy said.
"He loved playing there," Bruhn said.
"There's just something about Pelican when we play them it's just different than any other game," Jordan Hein said.
Having traveled to distant Barrett to play West Central Area and back to Pelican Rapids with a game the following day against ranked Maple River at home left little time to rest and the mental and physical fatigue, along with a frothy crowd in Pelican Rapids, all contributed to a tough overtime defeat.
"I knew we were going to be emotionally drained," Head Coach Dave Cresap said.
"Why not play your biggest rival on the toughest night over there?" Schmitz said.
Perham had the game in hand with the ball as the clocked ticked down at the end of regulation but a floater in the lane would not fall and the Vikings took advantage in overtime.
It took the perspective of the team's two seniors Duffy and Tobkin to put that game in perspective.
"Maybe it was an awakening for us." Tobkin said. "We gave it our best but it wasn't enough."
"So much pressure went off our shoulders," Duffy said. "We just said, 'okay, let's go win the rest now.'"
Like the season, the film rollercoasters from laughter to a varied range of emotions, especially with the continual absence of Gabbard creating a second half of the season quest to find a leader on the floor. As the games progressed toward the playoffs and especially in the playoffs, a new leader appeared every contest.
Also chronicled is the amazing support from surrounding communities with teams like Detroit Lakes, whose players had played against Perham and Zach Gabbard since childhood. $4-5,000 was raised at a Perham-Detroit Lakes girls and boys doubleheader. Nearby New York Mills raised a few thousand dollars in minutes at a game the same week.
Many of the bands featured during game highlights, from the likes of Moby and Silversun Pickups help explain, whether lyrically or musically, much of the feelings behind such monumental victories for the program and the city of Perham.
"For Three" is an amalgamation of basketball and brotherhood. That brotherhood was created and communed around a dream of state glory, but moreso, on the return of Gabbard.
Getting a chance to hear Gabbard's thoughts and feelings on the season and his struggles closes a gap in the story that thousands wondered about during the playoff run and his recovering voice snaps the viewer to attention every time he appears on the screen.
"For Three" is an unbelievable tale with an incredible ending and Hanson's efforts to chronicle the season are valiant, heartfelt and impressive. Don't miss a chance to see it.
DVD's can be purchased for $20 from the movie's website www.forthreemovie.com, at The Comet Theatre and at local businesses around Perham.