OUCH: Coal Ridge basketball player comes back from severe poke in eye
PEACH VALLEY — The memories of the night of Feb. 13 are pretty clear to Hunter Gerber — even though he didn’t see half of them.
The sophomore guard for Coal Ridge’s boys basketball team, who easily stands as the Titans’ leading scorer this season, suffered a severe eye injury during his team’s Class 3A Western Slope League game at Moffat County in Craig. It’s an injury that has likely caused permanent damage to the vision in his left eye, and the immediate impact forced him to miss playing time while causing his left pupil to dilate at a different rate than his right pupil.
Has it slowed down his desire to be on the basketball court with his teammates? Not at all.
“A lot of me coming back as quick as I did had to do with knowing that the team needs me,” Gerber said.
The Titans (11-11 overall), though longshots when the Class 3A state tournament begins today, will have Gerber in the starting lineup when they open play as the No. 26 seed in the 32-team tournament. They’ll face No. 7-seeded Alamosa (16-5) at 5 p.m. today, with the winner facing either 10th-seeded Grand Valley (17-5) or 23rd-seeded Manitou Springs (16-7) on Saturday for a berth in the Great 8 round of the state tournament, which takes place March 12-14 at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
Gerber is an unquestionably productive scorer even as a sophomore, as his 16 points-per-game average ranks him third among 3A Western Slope League players behind only Sam Parker (22.5 points) and John Parker (16.3) of Grand Valley. At the time of the injury, however, there were some serious doubts if the Coal Ridge sophomore would play again — ever.
“I’ve never seen an injury like that in all my years of basketball,” said Coal Ridge coach Paul Harvey, who was an assistant coach on Grand Valley’s 2007 state championship team and is in his seventh year as the Titans’ head coach. “It was pretty gruesome.”
The injury occurred during the third quarter of the Titans’ 70-60 loss to the Bulldogs. Gerber drove the lane and missed a layup, and Moffat County sophomore post player Keenan Hildebrandt pulled down the rebound. Then as Hildebrandt let go of an outlet pass to a teammate, his right pinky finger rammed into Gerber’s left eye socket.
Gerber collapsed in pain, and one of his teammates had to intentionally foul so play could be stopped to attend to the fallen sophomore. Then after medical staff at the game attended to him, he was taken to Memorial Hospital in Craig for treatment.
Emergency room doctors treated him and gave him an eye patch after they’d stopped the bleeding from his eyeball. It wasn’t until he saw an optometrist, however, that he was told his iris was torn and the gel around his retina was displaced. It shot his 20-20 vision up to 20-200 in his left eye.
He had to miss his team’s game against Roaring Fork on Feb. 17, but he was back in time for the Titans’ game against Olathe on Feb. 21. By then, he had ditched the eye patch he was wearing for the protective glasses he’s wearing on the court now.
He admits that the injury made him gun shy when he first returned to the court before he realized playing timid wasn’t the right way to play regardless.
“I knew that if I went out and played hard, then the rest of my teammates would definitely come out and play hard,” he said.
It’s definitely shown. He’s actually averaged more points per game since the injury, scoring at a 16.25 ppg clip since his return.
The injury could have done permanent damage, though. His left pupil no longer contracts the way his right one does, making him sensitive to bright lights. His doctor also said the injury could make him more prone to contracting glaucoma in 10 to 15 years.
In the meantime, though, Hildebrandt did apologize to Gerber prior to the team’s game in the WSL district tournament last week. That made Gerber feel better, but not as much as knowing he’s still able to help his team in the postseason.
“I didn’t know how long I’d be out,” he said. “I’m just glad that it wasn’t bad enough that I was able to come back so quick and be here for the playoffs to help my team. This is where I want to be.”
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