PAVILION, N.Y. – The Pavilion High School (N.Y.) gymnasium is a classic basketball barn.
A place where title banners, and the American flag, hang.
Where a tight-knit farming community gathers to watch its boys. The movie Hoosiers, only real.
As the Section V tournament tipped off this week, one Pavilion family sat together in a row of bleachers savoring the moment while playing zone defense against a mixture of emotions.
Frustrated yet grateful. Saddened yet joyful.
Mike and Amy Wiedrich and their youngest sons, Dylan, 13, and Trevor, 15, were there to watch Zach Wiedrich in a Class C-3 pre-quarterfinal round game.
They couldn’t have been prouder of their oldest son and big brother, and yet Zach didn’t score a point, grab a rebound, or dish out an assist. The senior captain never played a second in his team’s 59-45 victory over Keshequa.
And that was OK. Because Zach was alive.
“If he lives to be 100 and doesn’t play another basketball game, that’s fine by me,’’ Amy Wiedrich said. “He’s still here and that’s all that matters.”
We roll our eyes when we hear expressions like “Don’t take anything for granted,” “Count your blessings,” “Live each day to the fullest.”
Silly clichés. And then real life happens.
A Zach Wiedrich happens.
A Livingston County league all-star as a junior who averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds, the 6-foot-3 forward was an integral part of coach Rob Milligan’s team featuring 10 seniors, all buddies since the third grade.
Back when a basketball was a mysterious round bouncing object.
But even though Wiedrich scored in double digits four times through this season’s first eight games, something wasn’t right. Once a player who could run rim-to-rim and never need a breather, he suddenly needed lots of them. Shooting a 3 became like heaving a shot put.
“I started feeling dizzy, light-headed and had shortness of breath,’’ Wiedrich said, describing a game against Mount Morris on Dec. 18.
Two days later, with worsening symptoms, he couldn’t finish a game against Warsaw, and at the suggestion of trainer Amanda Shaw, Wiedrich’s parents took him to Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.
A place where “Don’t take anything for granted” isn’t a cliché, it’s a mantra.
Where doctors who hoped Zach Wiedrich was suffering from simple dehydration eventually diagnosed him with a rare genetic heart disorder.
Where a 17-year-old basketball player was told he could no longer play the game he loves. Where a young man learned life isn’t fair but quickly understood how lucky he was.
‘It’s a blessing’
“The doctor came into the room and he looked like he was about to cry,” said Wiedrich, who wore a heart monitor through the holidays and eventually was summoned back to the hospital for surgery Jan. 18 to place a defibrillator in his chest. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what?’
“I think I took it better than my dad did. I’m actually really thankful they found it this early. I could’ve gone into cardiac arrest. It’s a blessing. I’m still here and I’m still with my team.”
The Wiedriches had never heard of arrhythmogenic right ventricle cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle where patients are at risk of sudden death.
But here it was, an unwanted house guest, requiring the rest of the family to be tested.
For the rest of Zach’s life, the defibrillator will control irregular heartbeats and medication will help prevent further muscle damage. Sports that require high cardiovascular exertion — like basketball — are out.
But he should get the OK soon to play baseball, his other love, this spring. He’s a pitcher with plans to attend St. John Fisher College.
So how is Wiedrich, one of those well-rounded, modest kids, coping? With a lot of heart.
“I want to be out there, I love basketball,’’ he said. “It’s awful. But I can still support my teammates.’’
And they can support him.