Zach Gabbard: Something to play for
The Perham boys basketball dream season turned nightmare Thursday night in Glyndon with the collapse of junior forward Zach Gabbard.
Meanwhile, 80 miles away in Menahga, Isaiah Bauck, of New York Mills, was pouring it on with his teammates, joining elite company, and scoring his 1,000th career point in a 90-60-blowout victory.
Upon returning home from Menahga, I checked my email and with one sentence the wind was taken out of the sails of my evening.
Gabbard had led Perham in scoring three of the last four games. He was a team leader. He played rapacious defense and was never afraid to drive to the hoop.
Bauck plays a similar role for the Eagles. He looks to score but also to share the ball with his teammates as he captains and leads his team.
Both squads are on winning streaks. Perham had won 11 straight games. The Eagles just won their sixth straight.
In the blink of an eye, those statistics and victories are rendered meaningless and both towns and the surrounding communities now all sit in their own private waiting rooms.
Bauck and teammate Adam Snelgrove, both bowlers, as well as basketball players, had recently been planning a night of bowling with Gabbard--just one of the many plans with Zach that are now on hold.
Tonight's Perham activities are postponed. The pall of awaiting good news is always sullied by the possibility of bad news. All over the Perham area today, there is a concerted, community silence.
As Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton basketball coach Jason Sunde said, "the gym was 'quiet' as players and fans were hoping for Gabbard to recover and get up.
"You see these things on TV or read it in the newspaper and my first thought was that this cannot be happening," he said.
It has happened before.
I remember stopping in my tracks at the news of former Boston Celtic Len Bias' passing and Loyola Maramount's Hank Gathers' collapse on the court in the 1989 West Coast Conference tournament stopped the nation.
The tragedy of such public spectacle adds to the collective mindset. It is just plain difficult to comprehend how a seemingly healthy and talented individual can just drop motionless.
I almost felt a sense of guilt for reveling in Bauck's tremendous achievement, even though I was not aware of what was occurring simultaneously in Glyndon. There is no easy way to comprehend such things.
Thankfully, Zach is still with us and his team grows by the minute. The well-wishers on the family's Caringbridge.org guestbook include more than just friends and family. Competing teams and whole schools have left notes of hope for Zach.
In interviewing Bauck about his 1,000th point, I knew somewhere in our conversation Gabbard was going to come up. I was unaware if they knew each other. I really had no idea how to broach the subject.
Bauck and I were meeting to discuss a happy moment.
I kept thinking about how Hank Gathers' death moved his team to make an improbable run to the Elite Eight of the 1989 NCAA tournament.
Anyone who remembers watching Bo Kimble shoot his free throws left-handed, in honor of his southpaw friend Gathers, and making those free throws did so with eyes that were not dry.
It was one of the most moving moments I have ever witnessed. Silence turned to deafening roars of adulation for Kimble finding the strength to define a moment and his feelings with genius, humility and respect.
Therein lies the silver lining in tragic occurrences like this one striking the Gabbard family.
Zach is going to return to the floor. In that moment, those able to witness his return will be bombarded by the return of the grace, kindness and sentiment being expressed to Zach and his family during this time of struggle.
"They have a pretty strong ball club over there," Bauck said. "Now they have something to play for."
I think Isaiah summed up in those two short sentences what I was unable to verbalize until he mentioned it.
Perhaps, that was the one thing the dynamic and undefeated Yellowjackets were missing. Zach Gabbard could quite possibly lead this team in a way nobody ever imagined.
His recovery will only motivate his teammates, family and friends even more.
His return will be momentous.
Let us hope that happens far sooner than later.