Sep. 28—Salem High lost one of its great athletes last week when Eddie Barkiewicz passed away from complications of cancer. He had been diagnosed with the disease only three months prior.
His many friends and former teammates will remember the popular Salem High Hall of Famer's accomplishments on both the football field and basketball court not to mention his humble, quiet manner.
The 1967 SHS graduate was a three-year starting forward on the Witches' basketball team and had an outstanding four-year football career both on offense and defense as a tackle and later a tight end.
Barkiewicz was also a beloved member of a group of former Salem High athletes who met for breakfast at Brother's in Danvers once a month.
"Back in those days nobody got playing time as a freshman, but Eddie was such an amazing athlete he could have played any position," said lifelong friend Tom Burkinshaw, who knew Barkiewicz from the time he was nine years old. "He was a blond, handsome guy and everybody knew who he was, (but) not because he drew attention to himself."
"He was a tough, determined player who always gave it everything he had," said another longtime friend and teammate, Roger Jalbert. "The best way to describe Eddie is that he was a quiet leader and a great friend. We enjoyed getting together for breakfast and were all completely shocked by his death. We're going to get together again later this week ... but he'll be missed."
Jalbert said Barkiewicz was in such great shape that he looked like he could still put on his football pads as recently as a few months ago.
"We'd all ask him when he was going to retire, but he enjoyed working from home and wasn't ready to give it up," said Jalbert. They played Little League and Pony League ball together and had been friends for over 60 years. "He kept himself in terrific shape, the last person you'd ever think would get sick."
Barkiewicz remained close friends with teammates throughout his life. They never forgot that he was named Most Valuable Salem Football Player in the Thanksgiving game against Beverly as a sophomore.
"That was unheard of for a sophomore to get that honor instead of an older player — and we had a very good football team with lots of seniors," said Dick Barbeau, who knew Barkiewicz from the time they were eight years old and loved to play games at Memorial Park near Salem Willows. "Most sophomores didn't even get to play, but Eddie not only earned a starting spot but excelled.
"I grew up by the park, and Eddie lived not even a quarter-mile away, so we became fast friends pretty early. We were on opposing teams in Little League and then Pony League, but summers we'd hang out at the park and have a great time. He went to the Polish grammar school instead of the one the rest of us did, but we were teammates at Salem High and football captains our senior year. Eddie also captained the basketball team and I was on the team with him and also played baseball."
Barbeau will never forget the time his future wife wanted to see Eddie's MVP trophy, and it broke when she dropped it by accident. They were both upset, but Barkiewicz laughed it off.
"No matter what award he got, it wasn't that important to him," said Barbeau. "We had good teams and he wasn't a prolific scorer in basketball, but got 15 points or more every game. He was a big guy, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds — and that's what he was two months ago even when undergoing chemo. He always went up against the other team's best forward or center, quietly getting the job done on some very good teams. We went to the Tech Tourney at the old Boston Garden in 1964-65 and again the following year after winning the Essex County championship."
"He was just a great guy and a wonderful friend," added Burkinshaw, the only non-football guy in the breakfast group. "I went on to play baseball and run track at Salem High, but he invited me to join the group anyway. He was just an amazing athlete who could do anything."
Jalbert said he was a senior when Barkiewicz was a junior at Salem High. "We played a very tough football schedule with Lynn English, Marblehead, Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Peabody, Saugus, and Beverly. Peabody was 6-0 when they played us, and we beat them. I was the right guard, and Eddie was right tackle, but he was moved to tight end the following year. He was so versatile he could play any position."
Barbeau said as seniors the Witches earned a trip to Bermuda after tying for the North Shore League championship. They raised some money, and he thinks the school committee chipped in to give the boys a good trip and create a memory that lasted a lifetime.
Barkiewicz, who had just turned 73, was married to his wife Annie for over 50 years and leaves a son and two daughters along with two grandchildren.
He loved outdoor activities, photography, exploring National Parks, and traveling with his family. Riding his Harley Davidson and attending Bike Week in Laconia, N.H. every summer with friends was a favorite activity. He was also a lifelong member of the Polish Club of Amesbury and worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for years.
"I remember Eddie saying we were all getting older and should meet every month," said Barbeau. "Now he's gone, and we miss him so much."
Contact Jean DePlacido @JeanDePlacidoSN
Contact Jean DePlacido @JeanDePlacidoSN