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Katherine Piorkowski to honor dad, a longtime high school sports coach

Kellenberg's winning pitcher Katherine Piorkowski gets the grounder

Kellenberg's winning pitcher Katherine Piorkowski gets the grounder and the out at first during the CHSAA state softball final on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Before every game, Katherine Piorkowski puts a sunflower in her hair.

"I used to wear bows," said Piorkowski, the starting pitcher for the Kellenberg softball team. "But the sunflower symbolizes happiness, and I always felt happy when I was with my dad. So I wear it to honor him."

Her father, Steve Piorkowski -- who coached softball, basketball, and bowling at Bayside High School in Queens -- passed away Feb. 18 at the age of 54, after a three-year battle with cancer.

Saturday night, Katherine Piorkowski and the Firebirds will play in his memory when they take on St. Anthony's at Skelos Complex in Rockville Centre at 7:30 to benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

"The outpouring we are receiving is unbelievable, but it's also believable," Piorkowski said. "It's unbelievable in the amount of people that are giving us so much support, but it's believable in the fact that he really touched so many lives. I'm so thankful for all of the support. It makes the grieving process slightly easier."

A ceremony will be held before the game to honor Steve Piorkowski, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2012. When Kellenberg's first batter comes to the plate in the first inning, the third-base coaching box, generally occupied by the team's head coach, will be left vacant to honor the longtime coach.

"He never wanted to see anyone fail," Piorkowski said. "He had tremendous belief in all of his players. If you ever needed help, he would sit down with you for hours until you got it."

Kellenberg coach Ken Conrade said he first met Steve Piorkowski about 17 years ago and credits him with teaching him many lessons about softball. The two would arrange a scrimmage or non-league game every season, and ultimately became close friends.

Steve Piorkowski, who lived in Massapequa, once told Conrade that he had a daughter in elementary school who he wanted to attend Kellenberg. Katherine Piorkowski came to Kellenberg in seventh grade, and as a junior last season, guided the Firebirds to a third straight CHSAA state championship. When Steve came to Katherine's softball games, he was there not as a coach looking to offer insight, but as a spectator and a father.

"He was a professional coach through and through," Conrade said. "One of the funniest memories was when we won the Catholic championship at Hofstra, he came over to the fence after a number of parents had already come out on the field to hug their daughters. He said 'Is it OK if I come out here now?' I had to laugh because if there was one person I would have wanted out there, it was him."

Just a few months before his passing, Steve Piorkowski saw his daughter win a state championship and commit to her dream school, New York University.

"It was a dream come true for him," said Piorkowski, who was named to the All-Long Island team last season. "I think this was what he always wanted. And the day I got into NYU, he was over the moon."

The Bayside softball team and members of the Long Island Greyhounds, a travel team founded and coached by Steve Piorkowski, will be in attendance Saturday night.

Katherine and her mother, Susan Hayes, will throw the ceremonial first pitch. Piorkowski says she might use a trick pitch that her father used to throw to her, in which the pitcher releases the ball just before the windup but continues the pitching motion to fool the batter.

"I used to say, 'How are you doing this?' and he would laugh," Piorkowski said. "When I got older, he taught me how to throw it and when I used it, he would get a kick out of it. It's a symbol of how he could be funny and still teach something. So I might throw it."

She'll do so with a sunflower in her hair.

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