HAMPSHIRE – The question hardly seems challenging, especially for someone who posted a 35 ACT score, who excels in chemistry and ranks in the top 10 in his senior class.
Yet asking Piotr Barnas something as simple as “What do you do with your free time?” induces a pause from the Hampshire senior.
“Hmm,” he said. “Good question.”
It’s probably because for all the things Barnas knows – academics, acting, baseball and music – the subject of free time is fairly foreign.
Barnas knows structure and diligence and practice. He knows how to think and analyze and adapt. He doesn’t know much about sitting around because in his world there always is something to do.
Hampshire baseball coach John Sarna calls his violin-playing, intellectual, leadoff man and center fielder a “true Renaissance man.” Teammate Tyler Crater, who grew up playing baseball with Barnas, wonders when his friend sleeps.
“Nobody’s forcing me to do it,” Barnas said. “I enjoy doing [all these things] and I’m interested in it. That’s why I do it.”
Barnas is hitting near .400 for Hampshire’s baseball team. He also plays violin in Hampshire’s high school orchestras and recently finished another season with the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra. He also performed his senior recital for Suzuki School of Elgin, just before the baseball season began.
“It definitely takes a lot of time, especially as you get older,” Barnas said. “When you’re little, you had time to do other things, but with high school everything becomes more of a time commitment. You’re playing baseball every day. There’s more stuff going on. This year I kind of felt the pressure. I stuck with it. There are some tough spots – I’m not Superman.”
Some classmates might disagree.
“I marvel not only because he has so much to do, but because he is the biggest thinker that I know,” said Crater, who scored 30 on the ACT. “It’s one thing to have to write a paper, but Pete will analyze it and analyze it again. I think he gets the least sleep of anyone in high school.”
Barnas says that’s a blessing and a curse.
“I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “I spend so much time doing everything, it gets in the way of important things as well.”
Barnas’ parents Ted and Margaret immigrated to the United States from Poland in the 1980s. There was unrest in their country, and Ted said most of his family eventually made it to the U.S. after Poland was dictated by martial law.
Ted arrived in 1986, and their family lived in Arlington Heights when Piotr was young. Piotr is the oldest of four children, followed by Paul, 13, Patrick, 9, and Klaudia, 6 months.
When Piotr was 5 years old, a music assembly at his elementary school changed his life. He was smitten with the violin. Neither Ted nor Margaret had musical training, but Piotr soon began taking lessons.
Ted made him a bet early on that if he, too, took up violin he would pass Piotr in playing ability. Ted laughs now because he soon realized Piotr was progressing so quickly that would never happen.
Instead of taking lessons himself, Ted enjoys his son’s music.
“I do love the violin whenever I hear him play,” Ted said. “When he would play something, I would say, ‘How about one more time?’ I’d rather listen to an hour of him playing than an hour of a CD playing music.”
Sarna did not know much about Barnas when he took over Hampshire’s baseball program before the 2012 season. When Luke Wians was injured last season, Barnas stepped into center field and has been there since.
Barnas had one of his best games of the season Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to Prairie Ridge. He was 3 for 4 with three doubles and an RBI.
“One of our coaches was telling me about the personne,l and I never heard once about Piotr Barnas,” Sarna said. “Then, when we started workouts last year, you could see his work ethic. He’s earned it. You can’t find a person who says anything bad about him. You don’t find many kids who are that well-rounded.”
Barnas plans to attend Illinois Wesleyan, where he will major in pre-medicine and play in the orchestra. He also made a sort of acting debut this year in classmate Oliver Pappas’ Senior Advanced Placement Literature class project. Pappas wrote and shot a 25-minute movie “Shakeception,” which combines Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” with the movie “Inception.” Barnas plays Hamlet in the film.
Barnas tries to practice an hour on the violin every day, between homework, classes, baseball practice and music rehearsals. Being so busy has some fringe benefits – Barnas hustled off to another rehearsal after Wednesday’s game while his teammates manicured the field.
“When you talk about a guy who’s got it together, it’s Pete,” Crater said. “No matter what he’s doing – school, baseball, basketball, violin – he’s just unbelievable. I always tell him to let me know when he’s playing, because I take every chance I can to go see him.”
Getting back to the original question about free time, Barnas said he might listen to music or play catch with his brothers or work out. He soon will learn more about what it’s like, because he’s almost done with baseball and school for the summer. Until he heads to Bloomington in August, Barnas may actually learn what it’s like to have some free time.
“I’m looking forward to taking a break,” he said. “I’m just going to spend some time with family and friends. I’ll spend some time with my little sister.”