Underneath a cloudless sky and upon the fields he loved so dearly, dozens gathered at the Bayside Athletic Field on Friday morning to remember and honor Stephen Piorkowski — the admired coach and physical education teacher at Bayside High School (BHS) who succumbed to cancer last year.
“Today we stand with the Piorkowski family and the Bayside High School community as we honor and celebrate the life of a father, a friend, a coach, a leader who had a tremendous impact on everyone he had ever known,” Councilman Paul Vallone said.
Piorkowski was diagnosed in 2012 with multiple myeloma, an aggressive form of cancer that broke his neck and damaged his spine. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Piorkowski continued to coach throughout his three-year-long battle with cancer, which ended last year on Feb. 18. He was 54 years old.
Piorkowski is survived by his wife, Susan Hayes, and his daughter, Katherine.
“Bayside High School has always been a big part of our family,” Hayes said. “Stephen loved teaching in this beautiful and desirable school in such a wonderful community. He enjoyed coming to work each day to see what adventure was in store for him. He was determined to make a difference.”
Hayes remembered watching their daughter Katherine grow up on the field with her father. At the age of 2, she could be seen on the baseball diamond learning how to run the bases.
All those years of training went to good use: Katherine won three consecutive NYS Catholic High School championship titles in a row with the girls softball team at Kellenburg High School on Long Island and is now a successful pitcher for NYU.
Hayes also spoke fondly about Piorkowski’s bold personality, saying one of the things she has missed the most is his “quick wit and mischievous sense of humor.”
“He could be counted on to initiate ice cream or food fights with his players after games,” Hayes said. “He would come home at least once a year with hints of chocolate cake stuck in his long hair.”
“You know how people say, ‘That person’s a character’?” BHS Principal Michael Athy added with a laugh. “Well, Steve was a character and a half.”
After the ceremony, attendees walked over to the corner of 32nd Avenue and 204th Street and watched the unveiling of Stephen Piorkowski Memorial Way.
Later, Hayes and some former BHS student athletes were asked to talk about the coach’s championship wins within the BHS athletic program.
One player laughed, raised her arms and asked with a grin, “Which one?”