Shrieve succumbs to cancer, community mourns

Volleyball coach remembered fondly as battle with illness ends

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

Richmond High School students and staff and the Contra Costa College community are mourning the loss of a valued faculty member, as Zachary Shrieve died Thursday morning after a seven-month battle with cancer.

He died while under hospice care at an undisclosed location.

On Sept. 28 the 46-year-old Shrieve, an El Cerrito resident, was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and given just two years to live by doctors. In the face of overwhelming odds, the coach and mentor began his race against time to find any avenue toward a cure.

News of Shrieve’s death circulated Thursday first among family and friends by phone, and then spread to social media as the Facebook page of the Richmond High School Alumni made a public announcement of the loss.

The time and location of services have yet to be determined.

The scope of what Shrieve meant to his students is evident in each student Shrieve coached or taught. Widely regarded as an outstanding instructor, his inviting style and personable, good-natured interactions made the life lessons he passed to his students easily digestible and applicable.

“Richmond lost a good teacher,” former Richmond High and current CCC student Angelica Espinal said. “Whenever he discussed differences with students it was always with a smile, no matter what. People like that make me smile and students liked him because of that. He was very supportive and lifted the spirits of all of the students he came in contact with. I’m still in shock because he was such a good person. It really sucks.”

Aside from teaching physical education at Richmond High School, Shrieve also coached women’s volleyball for the Oilers and Contra Costa College.

“He was always in great shape. He’d come out and hit with the girls. He was active. It was the opposite of a sedentary lifestyle. That’s why the initial diagnosis was so shocking,” CCC Athletic Director John Wade said. “You always wish you had the opportunity to say goodbye when it’s missed. When you hear someone is going into hospice you know what it means, but deep down you still hold on to hope.”

One constant in Shrieve’s teaching career was the friendship of fellow Comet coach and former Richmond High teacher Miguel Johnson. Johnson is currently the men’s basketball coach at CCC. The two men taught together before being reunited as coaches at CCC.

Johnson said he received periodic emails about Shrieve’s progress with treatment. Though the news was not positive, no one expected things to happen quickly.

“It all takes a toll on you. It’s been very different here even though we know why he (Shrieve) hasn’t been around,” Johnson said. “We understand that he is not suffering with that illness (any longer), but you’re never prepared for it.”

Johnson said even when he found out he was ill, he (Shrieve) was always upbeat.

“He gave you the inclination that no matter what, things would always work out — you just never quit working.

“With what he went through and the attitude he had through it puts things in perspective, it helps us see that things for us aren’t really that bad,” Johnson said

Today, just 24 hours after his death, Richmond High faculty members and students already constructed a makeshift memorial to Shrieve in the school’s central gathering area known as the pit.

“People at work are really down,” Richmond High and Comet volleyball coach Kristy Tianero said. “I’m speechless right now, I can’t believe that he’s gone. I think I’m still in shock.”

Tianero was a CCC assistant coach under Shrieve. When he became ill, Tianero put Shrieve’s teaching to the test as she took on his coaching duties at the college.

“There were many things that I wanted to ask him. He was my anchor. He always made things better,” Tianero said. “I’m just happy to know that he had his family with him (when he died) and he wasn’t alone or suffering. The fight was exhausting for him.”

To his players, he was more than just a coach or a teacher. He was supportive and understanding.

“He cared, like actually cared. He paid attention to our feelings, not just our grades or athletic performance,” former Richmond High student and current CCC volleyball player Amy Palomares said. “Even when he got sick and couldn’t come to all of the games he still was supportive, encouraging and you knew he wanted to be involved.”