Students, athletes and fellow coaches are in shock after the sudden death of Larry Shimel, who collapsed while teaching a class at Modesto High School on Wednesday morning and died of an apparent heart attack.
Shimel, a special-education teacher at Modesto High and the head football coach at Big Valley Christian High School, was 58.
Modesto High athletic director Don Wallace confirmed that Shimel collapsed during class and, later in the day, Big Valley Christian sent a letter via email confirming that Shimel had suffered a heart attack.
Medical crews were called to Modesto High, on H Street, on a report of a medical emergency, According to sources, Shimel collapsed during third period – from 9:40 to 10:30 a.m. – and CPR was performed until emergency personnel arrived and transported him to Doctors Medical Center.
“It’s just a moment of loss, of shock, of disbelief,” said BVC athletic director David Voortman. “For the boys, (they’re) dealing with the loss of a man who was very humble and loved each and every one of them.”
Voortman said school administrators and coaches met with the team for about an hour Wednesday afternoon and it was decided that Friday night’s contest against Valley Christian would be played as scheduled. Offensive coordinator Tim Giannosa will serve as the interim head coach.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., with a memorial set to begin 30 minutes prior. Details are pending. An effort emerged Wednesday on social media to encourage all who played for or worked with Shimel to attend the game.
“At first, we were told he just collapsed, and we got together as a team and prayed for him,” said Noah Miedema, who plays quarterback for the Lions. “Around 12 o’clock, they called us in and told us he passed away. I just thought about how we lost our head coach, and how he was always positive, no matter how bad we were doing ... he was always looking for something to give back to God.
“I totally think we’re going to win Friday night.”
Shimel graduated from Davis High in 1973 and, after a stint at Modesto Junior College, began his coaching career at Davis under Dan Gonsalves.
“It’s a big loss for the coaching community here in town,” said Don Lanphear, Shimel’s offensive line coach at Davis, who went on to become the Spartans’ head coach for 15 seasons. “I’m very saddened. He was a quality individual and I’m proud to have known him. I’m glad he crossed paths with me; he brought a smile to my face every time I saw him.”
From Davis, Shimel followed Mike Burrows to Livingston and Atwater high schools.
“I just can’t believe it. I’m in total shock,” said Burrows, whose Atwater High teams were among the best in the Stanislaus District during the late 1980s and early ’90s. “Larry will always have a special place in my heart. He was a very unique individual with a charisma that just drew kids.”
In the mid-1980s, Shimel made his way back to Modesto when he joined the Downey High staff under Nick Chipponeri.
“Larry was a person who related well to kids,” said Chipponeri. “He would do anything you’d ask of him; you never had to question his loyalty to the Downey program. ... He wasn’t lazy and put in the time that needed to be put in.”
Shimel became the head coach at Hughson High in 1988, and two years later delivered a victory that sent shock waves throughout the state. With Hilmar riding a 46-game winning streak, one shy of what then was the state record, Shimel’s Huskies upset the Yellowjackets 9-6.
“We just told (the kids) we’re playing Hilmar, not the streak,” Shimel said after the game. “Hope I can sleep tonight.”
Reyn Franca, who was on that Hughson staff, remembers a man who loved helping kids.
“Larry had a monstrous heart,” said Franca, who took over the program when Shimel left in 1991. “He was a very loving and caring person. He invited kids that were underprivileged over to his house for breakfast. And he did it quietly. It wasn’t, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m Joe Samaritan.’
“He didn’t coach athletes, he coached kids, and he dearly loved them. He was a saint. He really, really was. I wish I could be more like him at times.”
Will DeBoard, a former sports writer at The Bee and now the director of communications for the Sac-Joaquin Section, was a student at Hughson when Shimel coached there.
“I covered a playoff game a few years ago where Big Valley was 9-0 and lost to Bradshaw Christian, and the players were obviously upset,” DeBoard recalled of the Lions’ 40-25 loss in 2008. “But Shimel was the most positive afterwards. He rallied the kids around him and basically got everybody smiling. You could tell those kids really loved him.
Shimel, who went on to become head coach at Modesto High, Modesto Christian and, in 2005, Big Valley Christian, was known for carrying his Bible while on the sidelines each Friday night.
“As most coaches would carry a playbook, Larry would carry his Bible at all times,” said Voortman. “Whether it was under the clipboard or under his arm, it was always there for him. One thing about Larry: That Bible never left him. It kind of personifies his life.”
Larry Lee Shimel was born Dec. 14, 1954, in Stanislaus County. He is survived by his wife, Becci, and their son, Sean.