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'A remarkable young man': Basketball player who collapsed on court hopes to become teacher, coach

Zach Gabbard, right, chats with friends during halftime at a basketball game Dec. 21 at Perham (Minn.) High School. Jordan Cresap, left, and Jacob Anderson and Mark Schumacher, with their backs to the camera, were teammates when Gabbard collapsed on a basketball court in January 2011 due to cardiac arrest. Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a new year begins, The Forum is checking back on former subjects of stories who’ve made us cry, smile, laugh – or all three. They’re people who made a mark on the region in one way or another. We’ll tell you where they are now.

FARGO - The Perham, Minn., boys basketball fairy tale in 2011 could not have happened without the Zach Gabbard nightmare.

It’s a nightmare he doesn’t even remember. Months of his life are just no longer there.

“The last thing I remember is playing AAU basketball in the summer in (Las) Vegas my sophomore year,” Gabbard said. “That was a year before my cardiac arrest.”

Gabbard now is working on his elementary education degree. He attended Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, where he was the manager of the women’s basketball team after graduating from Perham. He will attend Minnesota State University Moorhead in the spring, where he plans to try out for the basketball team. The ultimate goal for Gabbard is to return to Perham to teach and coach.

“That’s the goal,” Gabbard said. “I still have my friends and family support, so it’s still going. That’s what we’re going for.”

On Jan. 20, 2011, Gabbard – a junior guard on pace to become the first Perham 1,000-point scorer – collapsed during a game against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. He was revived by a nurse who happened to be in the stands.

Many didn’t think he would make it. Gabbard was heavily sedated and asleep for more than two weeks.

Gabbard woke up, and Perham kept winning basketball games. He surprised the Yellowjackets in the locker room just before their first state basketball game in program history two months after he collapsed. He received a standing ovation at Williams Arena, and the Yellowjackets won their first ever state playoff game 57-40 en route to a Class 2A state championship.

“It’s been a crazy road, but I’m going through it,” Gabbard said. “I’ve looked past the what-ifs. It happened for a reason.”

Gabbard came back and played his senior year but wasn’t at the top of his game. That didn’t matter.

“He is a remarkable young man who has persevered through so much since the tragic event,” Perham boys basketball coach Dave Cresap said. “He has come a long ways in many areas, but he still needs everyone’s support to get where he needs to be.”

Cresap would be happy to call Gabbard a colleague.

“I feel honored that he wants to follow in my footsteps and become a coach someday,” Cresap said. “I truly care about all my players long after they finish their high school careers. He is an individual who I will admire for the rest of my life.”

Even though he doesn’t remember it, the nightmare happened. There’s a documentary about it, and his mother wrote a book about it.

He may not remember the nightmare, but the dream for Gabbard is still alive.

“I just love it,” Gabbard said. “I don’t think I could ever get rid of the game. I’m just a basketball player.”

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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