This Saturday, when the men’s lacrosse team plays Brown (2-9, 0-4 Ivy) on Schoellkopf Field, the Red (9-2, 4-1) will be looking to clinch a share of a fourth consecutive Ivy League title and an automatic bid to the NCAA championship tournament. The next day, the team will host the second-annual 21 Run to raise funds for the Family Reading Partnership, a coalition of local organizations that promote child literacy in Ithaca. In both endeavors, Cornell coaches and players will look to George Boiardi ’04 for strength and motivation.
Boiardi, who wore No. 21 for the Red, passed away after a ball hit him in the chest in the season opener against Binghamton at Schoellkopf Field on March 17, 2004.
Two years after his death, his memory and legacy are still alive and well within the Cornell lacrosse community. A life-size photo of Boiardi is the first thing a player sees when he enters the team locker room, and his jersey still hangs in his locker. The current seniors and juniors – the last two classes who were on the team Boiardi co-captained – place pieces of tape on their helmets, gloves, and equipment with “21” written in black magic marker. Head coach Jeff Tambroni has several photographs of Boiardi in his home, and another picture resides on a shelf just inside the entrance of the Cornell lacrosse office.
“I think that … all of those of us that had the privilege to either coach or play alongside George, to know what kind of human being he was and to know what he still means to this program … I think we’ve taken it upon ourselves to make sure that we’ve passed it on year in and year out,” Tambroni said. “We believe not just his legacy should live, but his teachings, the lessons, the way he handled himself as a leader and a teammate, all those things should be passed on because they were all very conducive and symbolic of what Cornell lacrosse is all about.”
Senior co-captain Cam Marchant wants to pass on what he learned as Boiardi’s teammate – striving for the best personal performance possible, both on the field and off. Marchant reminds himself daily of his friend’s influence by reading the prayer of St. George that Boiardi’s mother gave each teammate at his wake.
“Everything that [Boiardi] did represented the best of what Cornell lacrosse is: being a selfless teammate and giving your all every day,” Marchant said. “Doing your best, being concerned – genuinely – for the other people in the world. Doing your best not necessarily even for yourself, but for other people, for other people whose lives you can touch.”
These characteristics are shared through stories and memories by upperclassmen and coaches who took to the turf with Boiardi. Junior Ethan Vedder, who has helped lead the efforts to organize this year’s 21 Run, has begun writing “21” on the athletic tape he uses on his left wrist to serve as motivation during games. But beyond symbols and numbers, he can share stories of the consideration and kindness Boiardi showed everyone on the team.
“I remember one time I was one of the last guys in the locker room, and he said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?'” Vedder said. “And I said, ‘I’m walking up to [Robert] Purcell [Community Center],’ you know, typical freshman thing. And he said, ‘Nope, you’re coming with me, we’re going to get food.’ And he then drove me to get food, drove me home, and it was just a pretty cool night because there you are as a freshman and there is a senior taking you out to dinner … it’s the little things like that that you really see how he cared about how other people felt.”
The effort Boiardi put in on the field is remembered, as well. Beyond goals and assists, the coaching staff emphasizes “Boiardi stats,” which include ground balls, causing turnovers, and making hustle plays. For Vedder, a long-stick midfielder who notched his first collegiate point with a goal against Army earlier this season, “Boiardi stats” can mean more than finding the back of the net.
“A goal is great, and it’s really special … but it’s those little things that really add up,” Vedder said. “I think for the moment, you have more fun with a goal, but looking back, the things that will help your team more are the ground balls, picking up passes, getting in a stop as a defense as an entire unit working together. Those are what really make a game fun.”
This attitude has trickled down to the underclassmen. Although these players never knew Boiardi, they heard of the tragic circumstances of his death before joining the team, and, upon arriving at Cornell, embraced the path of selflessness, hard work and teamwork that Boiardi traveled.
“We never got a chance or the opportunity or the pleasure of meeting him and getting to be around him, but the older guys have done a great job of passing down his legacy,” said freshman Max Seibald. “How important it is to give everything you’ve got, and as I get older and I become an upperclassman, I’m going to continue to pass on his legacy because his death has had a lasting impact on this program and it’s important to pass on.”
Freshman Matt Moyer is another rookie who has tried to emulate the characteristics and attitude demonstrated by Boiardi during his playing career. Although they never met, they are connected in another way – both have been selected to carry the team’s “Hard Hat” during their rookie season. It is a tradition of the team to award an actual, construction-worker style hard hat to a freshman each year, who then carries it with him wherever the team goes – to every work out, practice, game, and road trip.
“The hard hat is just … a symbol of what we want to represent when we’re on the field,” Marchant said. “A hardworking team, a blue-collar team, a team that does its job without very much flash but always gets the job done.”
“It definitely means a lot to me,” Moyer said. “Being a freshman and not being on the same team as George, obviously I’m not directly linked to him. But he is emulated every day in practice through the seniors and the juniors … just his legacy of working hard and doing little things, and caring about your teammates. It’s definitely an honor to have that hat and know that he held the hat too.”
While the team has dealt with sadness and pain since Boiardi’s passing, his teammates and coaches have embraced events like the 21 Run as a way to honor and share his memory.
“I’m not sure that’s a wound that, like most, will go away with time,” Tambroni said. “That’s one that will linger on forever, because he just meant so much to us … and left such a wonderful legacy of courage and strength behind him that I’m hopeful and confident that that will never leave.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer Sun Sports Editor