Basketball coach has ‘clean bill of health’ after heart attack almost killed him
Next winter poses a new challenge for Rosemount girls basketball coach Chris Orr, who’s had his team within one victory of going to the state tournament three years in a row.
His 2016-17 team leaned on eight seniors who were used to tough opponents and big games. His 2017-18 team will have one player with meaningful varsity experience, along with a younger group possessing considerable athletic ability.
Orr’s challenge is to mold that group into a team that can take another shot at a section championship. That he’s around to take on that challenge is remarkable in itself. On Monday he was directing summer drills for several dozen high school girls and youth players in the same gym where, less than five months earlier, he collapsed from a heart attack that struck without warning and almost killed him.
“I’m back full-time with a clean bill of health. I’ve got my next checkup in the middle of August, but everything looks good,” said Orr, who missed only one game – Rosemount’s victory over Apple Valley in the Class 4A, Section 3 semifinals – after falling ill.
“If anything, he’s more energetic,” said Irish senior Rose Bauernfeind. “He came back stronger than ever.”
It’s been an active summer for Orr, who not only has been directing the girls basketball team’s summer program (and took the varsity candidates to a camp last week in Mankato) but is preparing to return to his role with the Rosemount football program as receivers coach for the sophomore team. He also ran the 4-mile in Saturday’s Run for the Gold road race, one of the events of Leprechaun Days in Rosemount.
“That’s the longest I’ve run in four or five years, but it felt good,” Orr said. “I always was working out, but even more so now, paying attention to what I do. The goal was to be on my feet at the end of the run and I was on my feet.”
On March 3, Orr was at work as a physical education teacher in the Rosemount High gym when he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. Another PE teacher, Tracy Cassano, administered CPR and a defibrillator was used to restart Orr’s heart. A stent was inserted to clear an artery Orr described as “99 percent blocked,” and he spent one day in the hospital.
The next day the basketball team knocked off Apple Valley 61-58 in the section semifinals without Orr on the bench. But when the players returned to school after that game to take a photo, Orr was there waiting for them.
He was back on the sideline five days later for the Irish’s 59-49 loss to Eastview in the section final, although he did turn over some of his duties to assistants.
Orr said he knows a few things about what caused him to have a heart attack in his early 30s, but a lot remains unknown.
“I never had any symptoms,” he said. “There’s no real cause. It can be hereditary and it can be diet(-related). And it can skip generations. We did some research afterward and about two generations ago in my family seven guys in their 40s had heart attacks.”
Asked if he was surprised he recovered so quickly, Orr said, “in a sense I am, but then I wouldn’t know any different. I had never even known anybody who had gone through anything like that. It is eerie in a sense that a few months ago I was pretty much dead, and now I’m out here running 4 miles.”
He said he’s back to his normal activities, understanding now his heart activity probably will need to be monitored for the rest of his life. “I’m not on a specific diet. The doctor has given me some recommendations and told me to watch what I do and how I feel,” he said.
If the girls basketball team returns to the section championship game for the fourth consecutive year, it will be with a vastly different lineup. The top five scorers from last year’s team were seniors. Incoming ninth-grader Helen Staley, who averaged about five points a game, will be the leading returning scorer.
“It’s going to be a fresh look,” Staley said. “For sure, we’re going to be a little quicker defensively. We have some freshmen coming in who are really good, and our captains are among the best we’ve had.
“Coming into the summer, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know how this is going to go.’ Coming out of the summer, I feel like we’re getting it together. But it doesn’t count until October and November. When March comes I think we’ll be ready as a team.”
Rosemount scrimmaged teams from Iowa and the Dakotas at last week’s camp at Minnesota State Mankato. Coaches don’t call many sets from the sideline during camps, Orr said, preferring to let the players use their instincts and figure things out for themselves.
“It was our first time playing together as a team in a game situation,” Bauernfeind said. “We did really well learning to pass the ball and looking for the shots we need. I definitely am excited for the season. I think we grew a lot in those couple of days in Mankato and we can grow a lot more.”
“The communication part is the hardest,” Orr said. “We’ve got a ways to go but we’re getting better at it, and that’s what you want to see right now.”
Orr, a 2001 Rosemount High School graduate, also is an assistant coach in the Irish baseball program and said he will continue to coach three sports “as long as my wife (Amber) allows me to. I like being an assistant in the other sports.”
Typically an intense, animated coach, Orr said he will try to tone down that part of his personality in the future. Bauernfeind and Staley laughed when they heard that, saying they will wait and see.
“I’ve been working on different styles of communication, but the hardest part of it is, it’s all passion and how much I care,” Orr said. “I love the team, the school, all that stuff. I’m sure I’ll mellow a little bit, but I’ll still look for ways to get the most out of these girls.”