Teens Remembered at Brunswick Home Opener

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BRUNSWICK, Ohio --  The Friday night football home opener in Brunswick drew a capacity crowd and a roller coaster of emotions.

Scores of Blue Devils fans filled the stands sporting their team colors, but if you looked  more closely you realized they weren’t wearing just any old t-shirts.

Fans of every age donned Brunswick Blue Devils tees with the names of four students who died in a tragic car accident on June 3.

A group of boys who normally paint the numbers of starting players on their bodies also honored two of the four students killed who played on the team.

They painted the names Chaya and Bartchak on their backs.

No. 16, Jeff Chaya, was killed the night before his graduation ceremony and No. 36, Blake Bartchak, would’ve been a starting senior on Friday night.

“There’s a lot of emotion going into the first home game,” said Brent Bartchak, Blake’s older brother.

Also killed in the crash were Kevin Fox, 18, and Lexi Poerner, 16.

Julia Romito, 17, was the sole survivor.

At the stadium on Friday, the community wanted to make sure the victims' families knew they were still supported and loved. Blue ribbons and signs were hanged from the bleachers.                          

“We’re family here at Brunswick,” said senior Alex Hartill.  “We have our bracelets, t-shirts, and they’re here with us tonight.”

The Bartchak family participated in the coin toss and also toured the locker room where Blake's jersey still hangs inside his locker.

Large prints of both boys were also posted throughout the locker room, including a shot of the boys together with angel wings between them.

Going into the game against Lake Catholic, fans tried to remain optimistic, although they knew they were the underdogs.

Blake's uncle, Rick Bartchak, said, “He was such a good kid.  I know he’s watching over us tonight.”

After the extremely emotional opening ceremonies, one wondered how the team would even be able to play.

The flag flew at half staff and the band played a somber tune.

The team chose not to run through the tunnel, but instead walked with their arms linked together.

Leading the players was Brent, who carried his brother's helmet.

Brent had watched his little brother play ball since he was a toddler, so the night was especially difficult for him.

“I’ve been really looking forward to his senior year and to see him out on the field,” said Brent.  “But he’s here. He would not miss a game.  Both Blake and Jeff are here.”

And perhaps something magical did occur, because once the tears were wiped away and the hugs completed... the Blue Devils crushed Lake Catholic 38-10.

Brent was elated and said he knows his brother and Jeff were part of that win.

Blake would have turned 18 on Aug. 27.

The Bartchaks said he would have loved his senior season, but life, and the game, must go on.

“It’s really hard, but we’re getting through it,” said Brent.  “But football is a good way to get your mind off of things… it helps a ton, more than they know.”