GAYLORD ― After years of hard work, slow improvement and building for their moment, this was supposed to be THE year for Avery Parker and the Gaylord girls basketball program. That was the plan, anyway.
The reigning Big North Player of the Year came into her senior season with high hopes, not just individually but for her team. She was already a state champion as a key member of the Gaylord softball program’s 2023 run, but the Northwood basketball commit wanted the winter to have a similar feel to the spring. She put in countless hours of work to get herself ready to do just that.
Through the first four games of the basketball season, Parker had led the Blue Devils to a 3-1 record while averaging 22 points and eight rebounds. With her at the helm, the Gaylord girls seemed ready to compete for a Big North title, and maybe make a run in the MHSAA playoffs. Everything was going according to plan.
Then the plans were thrown out the window.
During an overtime loss to Elk Rapids on Dec. 18, Parker suffered what would turn out to be a torn ACL. In an instant, her Blue Devil athletic career was essentially over and the Gaylord girls were without their star point guard.
“It was an unthinkable incident when Avery got injured. She had worked so hard to make this the best year, not only as an individual but more importantly the best year as a team,” said head coach Kelli Parker, Avery’s mom and longtime coach. “It was extremely heartbreaking to see your kid who has worked countless hours not be able to be on the court the remainder of her senior year.”
The injury has sidelined Parker since, and surgery scheduled for next week will officially sideline the Northwood basketball commit for the remainder of her senior season, bringing her high school basketball and softball careers to a close. The timing also means Parker will miss out on Gaylord’s senior night festivities coming up at the end of February, at least on the court.
So, the program decided to give her one final moment of her own.
In front of a packed crowd on Friday, Parker made her final career start at Jim Mongeau Gymnasium against Traverse City Central. And after Gaylord allowed TCC to score the first basket, Parker took one final inbound pass and did what she did so often in her Blue Devil career: dribble up the court, find space and make a layup. She then subbed out for good, ending her high school career on her own terms.
It was a special moment for a special Gaylord athlete. Parker was a three-time All-BNC selection in her basketball career while earning All-State honors as a freshman with the Gaylord softball team.
For her mother and longtime coach, the moment came with a range of emotions as she watched he daughter score and walk off the Gaylord floor one final time.
“I think it was a mixed emotion of don’t get hurt, I’m really excited for you and of course a little sad to say that’s the last time she’ll be in a uniform on this floor and in a Gaylord Blue Devil jersey,” said Coach Parker.
Parker accomplished a lot in Gaylord uniforms, with most of her individual success coming on the basketball court while much of her team success was on the softball diamond. She averaged 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in her junior season, winning the Big North Player of the Year award before upping those numbers early this season.
As part of the softball program, Parker helped the Blue Devils win three straight district titles, three straight Big North Conference titles, two regional championships and the 2023 MHSAA Division 2 state championship, recording the final out from her shortstop position in the state title game.
The rest of Friday’s game would go TC Central’s way, ending in a 62-35 Trojan victory after outscoring the Blue Devils 23-9 in the third quarter. That result in itself showed just how much Parker is missed, especially compared to the battle these two teams had last season as Parker went toe-to-toe with the Trojans’ star Jakiah Brumfeld. With Parker sidelined this time around, Brumfeld had no real counter, scoring a game-high 19 points.
Parker’s injury has put a younger group of Gaylord players in the spotlight, and the team has a bright future because of it. They are showing flashes of it, especially on the road.
So, forgive them for taking one night to look back on what one special individual accomplished.
“She is relentless. The countless hours of work, just putting in the work because of her passion for the game,” said Coach Parker. “That’s one of the hardest things right now is knowing she is a goal-setter, and now all of the individual and team goals she can’t accomplish anymore. She’s worked her butt off for so many years to get to this point. So I think; no, I know she is relentless.”
Contact Sports Editor Dylan Jespersen at Djespersen@gaylordheraldtimes.com. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @dylanjespersen, and Instagram, @dylanjespersen