Without his top player most of the season, Dave Cresap led tiny
to a 31-1 record and its first Minnesota 2A boys basketball championship.
But that’s not why Cresap was picked as the 2010-11 MaxPreps.com National Coach of the Year.
Not by a long shot.
Cresap kept an entire small but spirited community together, a region that was rocked not once but twice with startling and even tragic news during the season.
This wasn’t a coaching award only, but also recognition for true leadership in a region that needed him most. This extended far beyond the basketball court.
Leading scorer and ever-popular Zach Gabbard went down with a heart ailment midway through the first half of the team’s 11th game. He clung to life that night, the rest of the season and finally joined the squad in the locker room during the playoffs.
When Gabbard’s life was in peril, many bloodshot eyes looked to Cresap for answers. The 16-year coach who had just turned 50 had been awake with Gabbard’s family for close to 100 hours. Teens at school were searching for reasons why their 17-year-old peer and basketball star — seemingly in impeccable shape — could suddenly be fighting for his life.
"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."
The community rallied, reached out nationwide and raised more than $100,000 to defray medical costs for the Gabbard family.
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.
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.
"We got on the team bus (to go to state championship game at the Target Center in Minneapolis) and discussed it," 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 wasn't the prettiest of victories, a 45-37 victory over Lourdes (Rochester, Minn.) in the championship — but then again, nothing about the season was tied with a red bow.
Gabbard, who was hoping to attend the game, had to watch from a hospital bed.
"He was just a little worn out," Cresap said that day. “He couldn't get out of bed. His doctor said he needed to rest today. We called and asked for his will and his strength, and he gave it to us and we were able to persevere and win a state championship for him."
Cresap deflected his personal honors. The 31-1 season improved his career mark to 389-196 overall, 285-178 at Perham. The season he took over the program, the Yellowjackets had won one game. Cresap also coached the school's boys tennis team for eight seasons and reached the sectional tournament each year.
“It feels good for me, but you know what? It goes out to the kids,” he said. “The kids do all the work. I’m happy for it, but I want all the honors to go to those kids.”
Cresap’s larger-than-coaching season helped him outscore many more well-known and prominent coaches of high-profile teams. Such as:
* Bob Hurley, St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) boys basketball – MaxPreps Boys Basketball Coach of the Year won his 1,000th game this season and led St. Anthony to a 33-0 season and MaxPreps Xcellent 25 mythical national championship.
* Tony Heath, Pearland (Texas) football – Led upstart Pearland to Texas 5A state championship.
A panel of seven MaxPreps experts were asked to pick the nation's top male sport coach. Voting: 1st-place vote five points, second four points, third three points, fourth two points and fifth one point.
- Cresap (4 first-place votes) 31 points
- Heath (2) 28
- Hurley (1) 21
- Kris Richardson (Folsom football) 11
- Mac Whittaker (Harrison County, Ky. baseball) 7
- Bobby Howard (Columbus, Ga. baseball) 3
- Tim Hopley (Portsmouth baseball) 2
- Ryan Klingler (Fennville, Ohio, basketball) 2