With 52 seconds left in perhaps the most memorable boys basketball game in the history of Perham, Minn., Steve Gabbard waved his yellow towel Friday night like he had never waved it before.
Like the thousands of others in Concordia's Memorial Auditorium, Gabbard began celebrating Perham's first trip to a state tournament.
The deafening cheer that Fargo-Moorhead could hear burst through the auditorium roof was not only rejoicing a 55-44 section championship win over Thief River Falls but a win for Gabbard's son, Zach - who the nation has come to know after collapsing during a game two months ago when his heart gave out.
While Steve was sitting four rows up behind the Perham bench, Zach was with his mom, Maridee, in a St. Paul hospital, watching the televised game via the Internet.
Steve, who respectfully declined to comment after the game, headed to the court to hug his son's teammates and head coach.
"He told me - other than what he went through with his son - that this was the most emotional thing he has ever been through," said Perham head coach Dave Cresap.
"He's an incredible father," said Jeff Anderson, who sat next to Steve while he waved his towel after every key basket Perham made.
The towel was inscribed with the words "It's a team thing" - a slogan the team adopted long before Zach collapsed on the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton gymnasium floor on Jan. 20.
Zach underwent open-heart surgery before being moved to the University of Minnesota hospital for more specialized care. It was later discovered that a respiratory infection he suffered in December may have caused the seizure and heart attack.
From being listed in critical condition to being hooked up to a ventilator, Zach's recovery has improved by leaps and bounds. He now is rehabilitating at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul.
In a journal entry written by his mother on the CaringBridge.org website, Zach was shooting hoops with his Nerf ball on March 2. "He can't miss a shot most of the time," Maridee wrote of her son, who was the team's second-leading scorer before tragedy struck.
March 12, the day Perham beat Hawley in overtime in a section quarterfinal game, Zach savored a piece of chocolate silk pie that he received from his AAU basketball teammates. He no longer has solid-food restrictions.
Tuesday night while listening online to Perham beat Pequot Lakes in the section semifinals, a big smile came across Zach's face. "Yes. We're playing in Concordia on Friday. I want to go to the game in a wheelchair."
Zach continues to speak in loud whispers.
On Thursday, he walked around the therapy gym twice "virtually on his own."
And on Friday, hours before the historic game at Concordia, his mother wrote:
"It's a fantastic day at Bethesda. Zach is able to drink and eat anything he wants, including water."
It will be even more fantastic next Tuesday, when the entire Perham team plans to visit Zach in his hospital room. And maybe, just maybe, Zach may show up in a wheelchair next Wednesday at Williams Arena, where Perham will play its first state tournament game.
By then, the whole state could be cheering for Perham and Zach, as one CaringBridge guest suggested after the game:
"Zach, you are winning each day like your team has won each game toward state. Way to keep on fighting."
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549.
Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com