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Cheers greet Gabbard's return

By BRIAN STENSAAS, Star Tribune, 01/17/12, 9:45PM CST


Felled by cardiac arrest almost a year ago, the Perham senior saw his first game action

Zach Gabbard, felled by a heart attack last January, played for the first time Tuesday in Park Rapids.

 PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- The first few shots of Zach Gabbard's pregame warm-up tries fell off the mark. Rim. Glass. Brick. Then they started going in.

If anyone knows what it's like to get another chance, it's Gabbard.

Tuesday night at Park Rapids, three days shy of one year since he collapsed to the court after suffering a heart attack, Gabbard checked back into a varsity game.

The 6-1 senior forward from Perham saw the floor for the final 2 minutes of an 81-23 rout over the host Panthers.

He took the court to a standing ovation,

Gabbard missed his lone attempt in the running-time finish, a three-pointer from just in front of the Yellowjackets' bench.

"Mad I missed that; should have made that shot," Gabbard said. "That's the only downfall of this."

Coach Dave Cresap pulled his starters with 9:51 to play. Players and assistant coaches advocated on Gabbard's behalf to get him in the game but Cresap hesitated.

"I said no but then rethought the situation," Cresap said. "Deep down, I thought it was the right thing to do. "My mind, my body and my soul said yes."

Another opportunity will come Thursday night at home against D-G-F, the team Perham played the night of Gabbard's collapse.

Gabbard collapsed on the court from sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 20 last season. He underwent open heart surgery in Fargo, N.D., and missed the rest of the season.

With Gabbard's health concerns providing motivation, the inspired Yellowjackets went on to win the Class 2A state championship. He sat in a wheelchair behind the Yellowjackets' bench during a quarternfinal victory at Williams Arena.

The senior had been making steady progress toward rejoining the team. He overcame the final health obstacle in December when doctors cleared him to play following extensive testing on his heart. 

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