BRUNSWICK — Like they did at football games, athletes Jeffrey Chaya and Blake Bartchak passed through the Blue Devils banner. Only this time, they were carried.
The banner was signed with memories and messages of encouragement from students and was set up for both students’ burials at Resurrection Cemetery in Liverpool Township.
Friends and family paid their last respects to Chaya, 18, and Bartchak, 17, during the first of the funerals for the four Brunswick High School students who died as a result of a car crash Sunday in Columbia Station.
Lexi Poerner, 16, will be buried today and 18-year-old Kevin Fox’s service is Saturday. Julia Romito, 17, the fifth passenger in the car, was hospitalized and is recovering at home.
Chaya and Fox were scheduled to graduate the day of the crash.
During the morning funeral Mass for Chaya at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, the Rev. Bob Stec asked Chaya’s family, who were seated in the front row, what they thought made him extraordinary.
“He had a great smile,” “he had a lot of energy” and “he had a lot of friends,” they replied.
With each answer, Stec responded: “A lot of people have great smiles,” “a lot of people have a lot of energy.”
What made Chaya extraordinary, Stec said, was the relationship he had with his family. Each day, when Chaya came home, he would tell his family about his day, Stec told mourners assembled at the church.
“To remember Jeff,” Stec said, “all of us should go home today and talk to our parents and talk to our children.”
After the service, school buses adorned with blue and white ribbons carried mourners from St. Ambrose to the cemetery.
The buses passed blue ribbons on telephone poles and signs on local businesses supporting and offering prayers for the crash victims and their families.
Silent pallbearers dressed in gray carried Chaya’s casket through the Blue Devils banner as the crowd applauded, but the applause was more subdued than at a football game. Chaya was a wide receiver on the football team.
Once Chaya’s burial ended, mourners gathered again at St. Ambrose.
Mark Simonitis, a friend of the Bartchak family, spoke during Blake Bartchak’s funeral Mass.
“Blake’s death reminds us how precious life is, and how quickly it can be taken away,” he said.
Todd Grabowski, Blake’s uncle, placed his nephew’s letterman jacket on top of his casket during the service.
At the back of the church, paper banners students signed Sunday at Brunswick High School were on display. One message read, “If God wants the good ones, he got the 4 best,” and another said, “You guys have impacted everyone, even people you never met. You’ll be missed.”
Once again, school buses carried mourners to the cemetery. This time, the pallbearers were dressed in Brunswick blue, some wearing football jerseys.
Bartchak, a junior, was a linebacker on the football team.
After the pallbearers carried the casket through the banner, Brent Bartchak, Blake’s older brother, led members of the football team through as the crowd cheered.
Bartchak and Chaya were friends and their graves are next to one another.
Contact Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.