The “equipment room” is much more than that to Steve Piorkowski’s former players.
The large space just off the handball courts at Bayside High School has had many uses. It is as much a museum and play room as it is a storage closet and meeting space for the coach’s softball, girls’ basketball or bowling team members.
“We would hang out in there,” said Annel Sanchez, a former softball player and 2004 graduate. “There are a lot of fun memories revolving around the equipment room. It was like the player’s escape room.”
Piorkowski died at the age of 54 in February after a three-year battle with multiple myeloma and his wife Susan Hayes couldn’t believe what she found while cleaning the space out. Along with all the softballs, tees, bats and training gadgets, there are messages written on the wall from departing seniors over more than 15 years.
“I was just walking around reading them and I said I need to take pictures of these things,” Hayes said. “It was like they signed a big yearbook, but it was longer.”
The players wrote things like, “No Fear,” “P I will never forget you and how you changed my life” and “Wow I can’t believe I’m writing on your wall. I’ve been waiting for this moment.” Others denoted a season’s success and others just put up their name and year.
Heidi Gomez, the ace pitcher on Piorkowski’s final softball team in 2014, was one of the last people to leave a note.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling, because we all got to leave our mark on those walls,” Gomez said. “We hope that the tradition continues. However, it’s unfortunate that he is not here, but we all hope that his legacy continues and will live on forever in the Bayside softball program”
Pennants from the kids’ colleges were hung and there were shirts, hoodies and photos from Piorkowski’s 23-year coaching career. Endless sunflower seeds and index cards featuring training regiments were scattered around.
Bayside athletic director Joe Capuana said that the room will continue to be used by the softball, girls’ basketball and soccer teams and coaches in the future. The floor will be cleaned, but the walls will remain the same. He wouldn’t even think about touching things so important to the history of both programs.
“That stays forever,” Capuana said.
Piorkowski’s legacy is also going to preserved in other ways. His former softball players gathered for the second annual alumni game benefiting multiple myeloma on June 27. Hayes said the school plans on naming the softball field after him and is working with the city to do the same with the adjoining street. She and the players feel it is important for his name and teachings to live on, even after all the players he coached graduate.
“This man built this program and he is loved by many,” Sanchez said. “They may not know him. They may not have been coached by him, but when you put this jersey on, you put it on with pride. This is his legacy and it will continue on whether he is here or not.”
It was ideas of Piorkowski’s like the equipment room that further fostered the players’ bond to the program. The room was home to serious strategy sessions and silly ice cream and water fights. It was also where players could return to soak in all the memories of the happy times.
“If you played under P, you knew the equipment room.” Sanchez said.
Now, others will, too.