Almost exactly a year after collapsing on the court with cardiac arrest, Perham (Minn.) High basketball star Zach Gabbard made an emotional return to compete in his first varsity basketball game of the 2011-12 season.
As noted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Fargo-Moorhead Forum, Gabbard was brought in during the closing minutes of Perham's 81-23 walloping of Park Rapids (Minn.) High on Tuesday, earning his first game action since collapsing on court during a game against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (Minn.) High in early 2011.
"There was a standing ovation from both crowds," Perham coach Dave Cresap told the Forum. "It was awesome. My emotions were scared, because I am responsible for him being out there, but I was also filled with joy."
Gabbard's road back to competitive basketball has been as arduous a path as anyone could imagine for a teenager. After collapsing on the floor the teenager spent weeks in a hospital attempting to recover. He famously regained enough strength to be present for the Yellowjackets' Class 2A state title game victory, sitting courtside in a wheelchair. The story captivated the attention of the Minnesota basketball community and even inspired a documentary film.
Now, Gabbard is reportedly participating in as much as 40 minutes of practice most days -- up significantly since he first suited back up in mid-December -- eventually convincing Cresap and the Perham coaching staff that he was healthy enough for a limited amount of game action.
"I said no but then rethought the situation," Cresap told the Star Tribune. "Deep down, I thought it was the right thing to do. My mind, my body and my soul said yes."
The only thing marring the first chapter of Gabbard's comeback story was a missed shot; the senior lined up an open 3-pointer and fired, only to see his first attempt back in a game rim out.
Needless to say, there will be more long-distance attempts for the player who inspired his team to state title a year ago, perhaps as soon as Thursday night against the squad which saw him collapse on the court in 2011.
"Mad I missed that; should have made that shot," Gabbard told the Star Tribune. "That's the only downfall of this."
Spoken like a true sharpshooter, and one who is clearly overjoyed to be back on the court.