March 18, 2005

Remembering George Boiardi '04

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It’s hard to believe a full year has passed.

So much has changed, some good, some not. But as students prepare to leave campus today for spring break, I can’t help but think about this day a year ago. March 18, 2004. A day that so many people on this campus will remember for the rest of their lives.

March 18 was the day that most of us learned that the unthinkable had happened. We woke up that morning, the Thursday before spring break, and read that George Boiardi ’04 had died on the lacrosse field the previous afternoon.

The men’s lacrosse team wasn’t even supposed to play a game on March 17, 2004. The Red was scheduled to play host to Binghamton for the first time the day before. A forecast of snow prevented that. So it seemed ironic that as the teams faced off that Wednesday afternoon, a light snow was falling on Schoellkopf Field.

Things were going well for the Red. The team was leading by three with only a few minutes left in the game. That was when tragedy struck.

George was a short-stick defensive midfielder. His job, basically, was to be anonymous. So when an opposing player got ready to take a shot on goal, it was only natural that George would position himself between the player and the goal. Natural that he would be there to stop the shot.

What happened next wasn’t natural. The ball struck George, the strong, youthful team captain, at exactly the wrong moment. He immediately collapsed. Within hours, he was pronounced dead.

On the afternoon of March 17, lacrosse was the furthest thing from my mind. It was my second week as sports editor of The Sun, and we had just completed the Spring Sports Supplement the night before. After pulling an all-nighter and somehow dragging myself through a prelim and a couple of classes in the morning, I was at home in bed during the game that afternoon.

Then came the phone call that still gives me chills.

“Owen, someone is down and it’s really serious.”

I remember the mad dash to Schoellkopf. The eerie silence that engulfed the stadium as I ran up the stairs to the press box. The slowly falling snowflakes in the gray March air. Standing shell-shocked in the athletic communications office, directly above the men’s lacrosse locker room. Driving from Schoellkopf to The Sun with my colleague E.J. Hullverson, both of us gripped by feelings of fear and helplessness.

My responsibilities as sports editor compelled me to function. I would make phone calls to the hospital and University spokespeople. I would sit with my fellow editors to plan our course of action. I would pace back and forth in the newsroom as I encouraged everyone else around me to go on with his or her business as normal.

Then came the second phone call that still makes my heart sink when I think about it.

“He died.”

I didn’t really know George — even though he was a captain, I had only met him once or twice. But I know what he meant to the team. I know that no one took the mantra “leave this place better than how you found it” to heart more than George did. I know that he didn’t have to say much to make his presence felt. I know his position on the field was so typical of his position in the Cornell lacrosse family — not the most visible, but definitely one of the most influential.

Not surprisingly, the team took enormous inspiration from George’s memory. The Red had one of its best seasons in years. It won an Ivy League championship for the second straight year. Along the way, it beat archrival Princeton for the first time since 1996, and came oh-so-close to upsetting Syracuse on a soggy Schoellkopf for the third straight time. The Red went all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals, where it gave eventual national finalist Navy one of its toughest games of the season.

It was exactly what George would have wanted.

Two days ago, lacrosse seniors Sean Greenhalgh, Justin Redd, Kyle Georgalas, and Kevin Nee appeared on the cover of The Sun’s Spring Sports Supplement — in front of George’s locker. George’s memory never became an excuse or a dark cloud over the team. He became a source of strength — affecting his teammates as people even more than he did as players.

A lot has changed in the past year, but if there’s one lesson that’s far more important than any other, it’s the one we should take from George. The thing that defined George was his decency. That will always be remembered as his greatest legacy.

Owen Bochner is a former Sun Sports Editor. In The O-Zone will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Owen Bochner