Perham boys basketball head coach Dave Cresap has been named National Coach of the Year from MaxPreps.com, a high school sports website that is a division of CBS Sports.
Cresap led the Perham Yellowjackets to a 31-1 record in 2010-2011, and in their 1st trip to State, they won the Class AA State Championship. All while helping his team, and community, recover from the shock of having a team member, an important and lovable team member, Zach Gabbard, nearly lose his life on the court with a heart problem.
Cresap was a rock for the team, Zach’s friend’s and family, his assistant coaches, and the community in the days and week’s following Zach’s tragic incident. Thankfully, Zach, who was the team’s leading scorer before is collapse, is on the road to a full recovery. Just ask him if he can be back in the starting line-up next season.
But Cresap, who just finished his 16th season at Perham High School, and 26th season as a head coach (389-196 overall, 285-178 at Perham), was steady. He had a very deep and talented team, and he had every coach’s nightmare, one of his kids going down in front of him, fighting for his life. How he balanced everything, I’ll never know.
He had to deal with the fact that Zach had a lot of good friends, brothers even, on that team who were suffering along with the Gabbard family. Hour to hour. Day to day. Week to week. Cresap had to keep these boys focused. Keep them praying for Zach. Keep them focused on school. And have them ready to keep playing basketball.
He did all three. And it couldn’t have been easy. All while keeping up with his duties at Prairie Wind Middle School, his family obligations, his concerns and worries about Zach and the Gabbard family, and the countless text’s, e-mail’s and phone calls from press, friends and well-wishers.
“I honestly didn't know what to say,” Cresap recalled. “I definitely could have crumbled. But thank the good Lord, a light bulb went off inside and I told them I would be there for them, that we would get through this … together.”
Cresap helped led the charge on numerous fundraising events to help Zach and his family, all while trying to develop a championship team.
“Congratulations to David for his hard work, his coaching skill and for the manner in which he led our team through a most difficult, yet rewarding, season,” Perham Activities Director Fred Sailer said. “Dave has grown as a coach over the years and developed into a master at all phases of coaching. Add to this the fact that he is locally recognized as an outstanding teacher and you can see why we are proud to have him on staff.”
Cresap also got the Yellowjackets focused and organized on the court. They played with a purpose. Scoring duties were divvied up. Motivation – even against lesser opponents – was never an issue.
Team huddles were broken with "one clap for Zach," and much like the Marine call of "leave no wounded behind," Cresap started a "Put Zach on our back" credo.
"The thing is, we knew every day that Zach was fighting for his life so the least we could do was fight on and fight through adversity on the court for an hour or two a day," said Jordan Cresap, Dave’s son who took Zach’s place in the starting lineup.
I was lucky enough to sit in on many practices this winter and see Dave at work. He remained focused and organized. He knew he had a championship caliber team. He was also quick to deflect any recognition that was heaped on him. It was always about the team.
The team, school and community were dealt another emotional blow during the final week of the season. Perham’s community was rocked again with news of the murder of a fellow student Tabitha Belmonte, 16, who was shot numerous times by her boyfriend Dylan Cox, who fatally shot himself.
Many of the players knew Belmonte.
He was the steady hand as his team made their run through the section playoffs, and eventually to their first ever Section title, and first trip to State. Through their three, hard-fought games at State, Cresap remained steady, and he led the team to a State Championship, capping a season that must have seemed like a dream, and even like a nightmare at times.
“We got on the team bus (to go to state championship game at the Target Center in Minneapolis) and discussed it (Belmonte and Cox’s shooting)," coach Cresap said. "The kids got to talk to each other about her, about what happened. We'd been through so much all season. We eventually refocused on Zach and the game, and as always, they responded."
“It feels good for me, but you know what? It goes out to the kids,” Cresap added. “The kids do all the work. I’m happy for it, but I want all the honors to go to those kids.”
Dave may have his critics, as many coaches do. But Dave was the driving force behind this magical season for Perham baseketball. I’m very proud to call him a very good friend, and I’m thrilled to call him “National Coach of the Year”!
This story was written by John George of LakesAreaSports.com with contributions by Mitch Stephens of MaxPreps.com.
For the MaxPreps.com story click here.