By Joseph Staszewski
Bayside High School softball and basketball coach Steve Piorkowski died Wednesday night after a three-year battle with cancer, his wife Susan Hayes said. He was 54.
Piorkowski’s health took a turn for the worse starting in November. It was the end of a fight that saw him rally back from being wheelchair-bound with a broken neck to coach both sports at Bayside for two more seasons. The time was highlighted by the softball team reaching the PSAL Class A semifinals last year.
The energetic and ultra-positive Piorkowski, who coached at Bayside for 23 years, chose to keep fighting as long as he could.
“He was very hopeful until we were notified that there was really nothing else that could be done,” Hayes said. “He couldn’t accept it. He didn’t want to go.”
Piorkowski, who was a physical education teacher at Bayside, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2012 when a malignant tumor was found eating away at the bone marrow in his vertebrae. After two months of radiation therapy, he had reconstructive surgery on his neck to replace the C6 vertebra.
Just four months after being diagnosed, he was back coaching at a Bayside softball game. He was quick to show people the X-ray picture of his “new neck” that he kept on his phone. His players continually rallied around him because of their love for him and the impact he made on their lives. His girls’ basketball team went on a Cinderella run as the No. 38th seed to the PSAL Class A semifinals while he was away from the club in March 2012.
“The last two years of him returning was just precious,” Hayes said. “He loved the environment. He loved the kids. He loved his job.”
Last year, the senior-laden softball team dedicated its season to him as the hairless Piorkowski, wearing a New Yorks Mets cap, guided a special group he had as freshmen to the school’s first final four since 2008. “Play for P” became the team’s motto.
“RIP Coach P, I will love you forever,” former second baseman Tara Bernstein, now a freshman at Pace, tweeted Wednesday night. “Thank you for teaching me life lessons I will cherish with me forever.”
Piorkowski, who grew up in Seaford, became sick again in November when his body rejected a second bone marrow transplant. He was in and out of the hospital after that. He and his family remained hopeful that another treatment, a third transplant or new technology would allow him to keep up the fight a little longer.
In December, they celebrated their daughter Katherine, a star senior pitcher at Kellenberg, earning a chance to play softball at her dream school of NYU next season. Flocks of former students and players came to visit the beloved Piorkowski, many dressed in their Bayside gear. Piorkowski never let his condition take the contagious smile from his face.
“Stephen wanted to make the best of everything all the time and we all did as a family,” Hayes said.
Piorkowski is also survived by younger brother Robert and younger sister Laura. His wake will be held at Massapequa Funeral Home on Saturday from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m.-4p.m. and 7p.m.-9 p.m. The funeral will take place at St Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa on Monday at 11 a.m.