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Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Dave Cresap named National Coach of the Year!

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 3.  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 1st ever Section title, and 1st 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”!

(Mitch Stephens of MaxPreps.com contributed to this story.)

For the MaxPreps.com story click HERE.


Posted By John George
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Former Major Leaguer Chris Coste practices with Jackets

The Perham baseball team was treated to a special guest at practice Wednesday when former major leaguer Chris Coste came in to work out with the team.  Coste gained national recognition in 2006 when he made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies as a 33-year-old rookie.  It was even the title of his autobiography: "The 33-Year-Old Rookie: How I Finally Made it to the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors." The book, which chronicles Coste's first season in the majors, contains a foreword by ESPN’s John Kruk. This book covers Chris' professional career up through his third season (2008) with the Phillies. 

I have some personal experience with just how popular Coste was with Phillie fans.  My family and I went to Phillies Spring Training game in March 2009 in Clearwater, FL, when they hosted the Twins.  We sat in the outfield grass and when Coste’s name was announced as the starting catcher that day, the crowd went wild.  When chatting with Philly fans sitting by us, and we mentioned being Minnesotan’s near the F-M area, several fans wanted to talk about Coste, and how they loved him.

Coste admitted a special connection to Philly fans.  He said it was kind of like the “Rocky” thing.  The underdog.  Those fans love the underdog.

Despite his tremendous popularity in Philly, he was traded to the Houston Astros and after his release, was claimed by the Washington Nationals.  The Nats released Coste last summer after he had elbow trouble, which required “Tommy John” surgery.

Coste played at Concordia College with someone Lakes area baseball fans probably know, Jeremy Kovash.  He also crossed path’s at Concordia with Yellowjacket assistant coach James Mulcahy.  Coste struggled through 11 years in the minors before getting his break with the Phillies.  Now, he’s trying to get back into baseball shape after rehabbing his elbow.

He admitted that the rehab on the elbow is going great, but now it’s time to get the rest of his body back into shape.  Coste said that his whole life has consisted of playing baseball, being around baseball, so the rehab stint where he was away from the game for the first time in his life, was strange.

On Wednesday at Krueger Field, he jumped right in with the Yellowjackets as they played catch, went through some stretching and running, then took batting practice.  All the while, he was answering questions from the players, like who was your favorite pitcher to catch? (He said Jamie Moyer and Cole Hammels, former Phillie teammates).  What was the pre-game routine like?  Many other questions about individual players, both former Coste teammates, and opponents.

Coste was great with the guys on the team, answering every question, and talking about anything they wanted to chat about.

His advice was simple and to the point.  The Jackets catchers, Gabe Pankonin and David Stoll asked Coste keys to catching.  Coste didn’t begin catching until after college, when playing for the F-M Redhawks.  He said the best advice he ever got from a Redhawk coach was simple.  Catch the ball.  He mentioned having no worse feeling once in the bigs than not catching a catchable ball.

Coste added that if he weren’t a catcher, his career would probably have ended a long time ago.  Learning to catch has kept him going, and kept him in demand.  Despite being 38, and recovering from elbow surgery, Coste said he still believes he has a shot to make it back to the major leagues, and said he hopes to get things worked out for a minor league deal later this summer if he proves his elbow is healthy.  He also has a deal with Comcast SportsNet's Phillies Pregame Live and Postgame Live this season as an in-studio analyst.

I had heard of Coste’s story before he even made it to the bigs in 2006.  I love hearing the stories of guys who persevere, who don’t give up.  Who follow their dream.  I thought it was awesome that someone like Coste could survive the rough road of the minor leagues to play in a big-league park.  Now having met him, I’m rooting even harder for his comeback and return to “The Show”.

For more on Coste, check out his website: http://www.chriscoste.com.

Posted By John George
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