A long day of dialysis came with its rewards for Joey Bahn. Known to the West York Area High School community as "Spike," he sat atop a red fire truck last month with a dozen baseball players to celebrate their state championship.

These are the days that make it worthwhile: the three-hour kidney treatments he endures throughout the week, leaving each time with bandages on his arms to show for it. He was born prematurely, the cause of this ordeal. He also slurs his speech and sometimes struggles to keep his balance, but Bahn's older sister, Kim Cox, said those kidneys suffered the most in the last six years.

Joey  Spike  Bahn stands to be recognized during West York s pep rally in late June. The pep rally was held to celebrate the Bulldogs  second straight PIAA
Joey Spike Bahn stands to be recognized during West York s pep rally in late June. The pep rally was held to celebrate the Bulldogs second straight PIAA baseball championship. Bahn, who has served as the equipment manager for the football program for more than 30 years, was talked into helping the baseball team last year. When I think of one of the things that makes West York special, football coach Ron Miller said, he s at the top of that list for sure. (DAILY RECORD/ SUNDAY NEWS -- KATE PENN)

Bahn has faced moments of vulnerability throughout his 46 years of life, but he grew a little stronger against them once befriended by a few football players in his early teens.

"He's one of those who's been here forever and has a heart of gold," said Roger Czerwinski, West York's baseball coach and athletic director. "It's a two-way relationship. Our kids respect him incredibly, and I think he needs our kids."

Czerwinski's baseball team just happens to be a two-time state champion in the two years Bahn was talked into helping out. They all know him as "Spike," a nickname he took to just as he began making friends on the football team about 30 years ago. He was too small to play, but learned enough as the equipment manager that he still holds the position today while adding a little more to every practice and game.


"That's what keeps him going most days," Cox said.

* * *

A simple act of kindness blossomed into a three-decade bond between Spike and West York athletes.

One day back in junior high, Chad Toomey and a few of his friends from the football team noticed a commotion in the hallway. They found some classmates bullying a much smaller kid a year older than Toomey.

"We ended those kind of activities pretty quickly," Toomey said. "He was one of us from then on."

West York players pile on the mound as coaches hug after winning the PIAA Class AAA baseball championship last month in State College. The team has won two
West York players pile on the mound as coaches hug after winning the PIAA Class AAA baseball championship last month in State College. The team has won two state championships in two years with Joey Spike Bahn around to help off the field. (DAILY RECORD/ SUNDAY NEWS -- KATE PENN)

Spike became such a fixture in the West York community that Toomey's own son, Jerrin, became his friend. It was Jerrin and a few members of West York's 2012 senior class who talked Spike into helping the baseball team. Before that point he only helped with football and wrestling, so Jerrin asked: "Why don't you put on some baseball pants in the spring?"

Spike eventually agreed, and extended his bond with another group of kids he otherwise would not have met.

Brandon Rauhauser became one of those friends. Unlike Toomey, Rauhauser didn't play football or wrestle, so he only knew of Spike from a distance. In Spike's two years with the baseball team, he made enough of an impact on Rauhauser to prompt an outgoing message after this past June graduation. Rauhauser posted an Instagram picture depicting four images of Spike. It included a message:

"Whoever is still at WY needs to get to know this man before they leave. Spike is beyond special, he wasn't granted the best situations but he makes the best of it. He may not understand all the time, but he tries his hardest to help you anyway possible. He is an inspiration and I'm by far better off knowing him. I will def miss him come August!"

The baseball players' recent success on the field came on the heels of Spike's toughest battle off it. As last season progressed and the team inched closer to its first state title, Spike's kidneys regressed to the point he was hospitalized for a week.

Cox said her brother's kidney trouble played a role in his absence from the football program for a few years before Ron Miller's hiring in 2006. Miller thinks it took Spike some time to get used to him as the school's new coach because he was "an outsider."

Miller eventually earned the attention Spike gives to his players -- such as Brody Kern, who Spike made sure to support in person for last month's Big 33 football all-star game, or the Shiloh Central League baseball players who just happen to be from West York.

Jerrin Toomey spent a few summers on that Central League team. He said Spike wouldn't otherwise help out with the scoreboard or "anything" if there weren't a few players from West York on it.

"When I think of one of the things that makes West York special," Miller said, "he's at the top of that list for sure."

Although Spike returned to the football program early in Miller's tenure, his kidneys did not improve. Cox estimated they took a dramatic turn for the worse two years ago, leading up to his 2012 hospitalization and dialysis trips. He opted to forgo a kidney transplant at Hershey Medical Center and continue his life spending about nine hours per week in a chair for the procedure.

"He's not one to follow instructions," Cox said, "like eating instructions."

Every coach in West York to use Spike's managerial services quickly finds that out.

Czerwinski was hired as athletic director around the same time as Miller in football. Czerwinski remembers the first time he met Spike.

"He started bossing me around," Czerwinski said. "First time, I struggled to understand what he was saying and thought, 'Who's this guy?'"

He soon realized the importance of Spike's presence and suggested, "they're going to erect a statue at some point." Chad Toomey, who will join Miller's football staff this fall, said his lifelong friend's personality is just expected from the community.

"If he's not giving someone a hard time, then he's not at practice," Toomey said. "When I played, he knew the playbook as well as the quarterback."

* * *

Spike lives in Shiloh with his mother, Sandy Bahn, who raised her two children alone early in their lives after the death of her husband. She has watched over her son throughout his life -- to the point that Spike said "she has to put up with me" -- even through her own battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It requires her to be on oxygen, yet she still manages to drive her son to dialysis.

Spike said if she can do that, "I can do anything."

Her resilience, combined with the friendships he has made at West York, is what Spike said pushed him back to the baseball team after a week in the hospital last year. The same goes for any day following a dialysis treatment, such as the one last month in which the baseball team's victory parade awaited him.

"That's what keeps me going," he said with wide eyes and a grin after hopping off the fire truck. "I hope we do it again."

Brandon Kinneman sat behind him for that short one-mile trip. Having been a starting pitcher on the baseball team and quarterback on the football team, he befriended Spike like so many others.

During the football season, a player speaks before each weekly team dinner. Kinneman chose Spike as his topic last fall and said:

"If every day, you can bring the attitude Spike brings to life and to the game of football and baseball, you're going to be able to do a lot of great things with your life every day."
@mgoul; 771-2045