Zach “Zeus” Richards was a big bear of a lineman for the Carlisle High School Indians football team, a booming voice in his church choir, and a giant source of inspiration for his classmates during his brave fight against leukemia. Two months after his death Zach is remembered by the “Zeus Soldiers” mission to deliver hundreds of Teddy Bear hugs to sick children, and to help save lives through their Thursday, Nov. 21 blood drive in Zach’s name.
“Zach was diagnosed with leukemia the summer of 2012, right before his senior year,” said Samantha Lee, blood drive coordinator and faculty advisor for Carlisle’s Student Council, which sponsors the blood drive. The first Community Blood Center (CBC) blood drive in Zach’s honor was held that summer. “He had a bone marrow transplant in October of 2012,” said Samantha. “He came back to be Homecoming King. He was amazing. He was the song minister of his church in Miamisburg – he loved to sing. He was a lineman for the football team – number 66. His brother wears that jersey now.”
A lasting tribute to Zach was the success of Thursday’s blood drive, the second in his honor: 75 students registered to donate, including 48 first-time donors. The drive resulted in 59 pints of blood donated for 134% of the collection goal.
Zach lost his battle with leukemia on Sept. 25, 2013. In October student council members attended the Anthony Munoz Foundation Youth Leadership Seminar and decided to compete for the foundation’s $2,000 community service grant with the “Zeus Solders” campaign inspired by Zach.
Zach’s towering size earned him the nickname “Zeus” at an early age, and it became the trademark of the “Zeus Soldiers.” Their uniform is camouflage or hunter orange t-shirts bearing Zach’s number 66. Their mission is to bring smiles and warm hugs to children, who like Zach, are facing tough odds.
“We are going to collect Teddy Bears all through the school year,” said Samantha Lee. “We’re sending letters to all the schools in our league and asking them to bring Teddy Bears. We’re going to pick four different dates to go down to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and give them to patients, because it’s where Zach spent most of the last year of his life.”
A collection of donated Teddy Bears was piled by the gym bleachers under a “66” banner during the blood drive. A giant “66” in camouflage decorated the other side of the gym. Munoz Foundation Marketing Director Michelle Smith visited the blood drive along with Beijing 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team swimmer April Kerley, who spoke at Youth Leadership Seminar.
“At the end of the school year, Anthony (the former Cincinnati Bengal and NFL Hall of Fame member) will make the final choice of the top project,” said Michelle Smith. “It’s based on creativity and the one that we know is really going to make an impact on the community.”
Sam Lee’s daughters Mariah and Jayden are very involved with the leadership project. Mariah is senior class president and Jayden is sophomore class president. “The first time donated was when I was a sophomore,” said Mariah. “The second time was the blood drive during the summer in honor of Zach. My 18th birthday is today and this is my 4th donation today. I want to do it to save lives and because I know Zach had received some blood from donors. People need it and I don’t need all that I have.”
Senior student council representative Morgan Glover made her 3rd lifetime donation at the blood drive, qualifying for the CBC Red Cord Honor Program. “This will be my second donation in his honor,” she said.
“For a lot of kids, it gave them a reason to donate,” said Junior Tiffany Hunter, vice president of her class, who made her second lifetime donation at the blood drive. “They knew they were doing it for him.”