NEW YORK – When George Boiardi ’04 died as the result of a blow to the chest during a lacrosse game in March 2004, the Cornell community was shocked and saddened.
One of four captains of the men’s lacrosse team, Boiardi, a history major, was just two months from graduation and had committed to joining the charter group of Teach for America’s South Dakota corps in June of that year.
“The accident blindsided all of us,” said Jesse Rothstein ’03, a friend and Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brother of Boiardi. “We didn’t know what to say, what to do. It was a hard time for all of us.”
It wasn’t long after Boiardi’s Washington D.C. funeral that Rothstein came upon the ESPN documentary Flashing Before My Eyes on television. The movie, based on the book of the same name by the late Dick Schaap ’55, chronicles Schaap’s career as a sports journalist, author and media personality.
“I’d been fascinated with Dick Schaap for a long time, and I’d seen Flashing Before My Eyes, a few times before,” Rothstein told a group of 190 friends and supporters on Friday night at the Cornell Club in New York City at the first annual 21 Dinner. “But when I saw Flashing Before My Eyes again not long after George’s funeral, I realized that both Dick and George had worn the number 21 for Cornell.”
According to Rothstein, the similarities between the two late Cornellians don’t end there, and he created the 21 Dinner as a way to honor Schaap and Boiardi.
“Both George and Dick had a desire to give back, to care for others and be selfless,” Rothstein said. “After George passed, I knew I wanted to create something that would celebrate their legacies and give back to society.”
Conceived as a fundraiser for Teach for America-South Dakota, the evening featured speeches from Wendy Kopp, President and Founder of Teach for America; Richard Bordeaux, superintendent of the Todd County Schools, located on South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation; Ryan Wise, the Executive Director of Teach for America-South Dakota; and a keynote speech from Dick Schaap’s son, ESPN anchor and journalist Jeremy Schaap ’91.
“The sacrifices of young, talented people like George are helping to fix the inequities that exist along socio-economic lines in this country,” said Kopp, who also expressed her sadness at never having had the opportunity to meet Boiardi.
Wise, who met with Boiardi’s parents, Mario and Deborah Boiardi, in South Dakota not long after their son’s death, spoke of the commitment and courage it takes to dedicate oneself to the Teach for America corps.
Echoing the theme of courage, Bordeaux presented the Boiardis with a red and white star quilt, and explained that it was sewn by Lakota grandmothers in honor of their son.
According to Bordeaux, there are four chief virtues in Lakota culture: courage, wisdom, fortitude and generosity.
“From what I’ve learned about these two men [Dick Schaap and George Boiardi], they exemplified these virtues,” he said.
Jeremy Schaap’s keynote speech was both humorous and contemplative, and paid tribute both his late father and Boiardi, drawing further parallels between the two men and their service to Cornell and to society.
“He was fantastic,” Rothstein said of Schaap’s keynote address. “His speech connected both his father and George through the history of Cornell.”
Schaap has agreed to speak at the 21 Dinner in the future, according to Rothstein, and plans are already in the works for next year’s installment.
“We have begun the planning already and we’ll make a formal announcement of a date and place sometime over the next month,” Rothstein told The Sun in an email.
“I can’t wait to come back next year,” said Dean Cocarro ’04, a friend and fraternity brother of Boiardi and Rothstein. “This was truly an amazing evening.”
Archived article by Nate Brown
Special to The Sun