April 3, 2008

Four Years Later, Boairdi's Influence on M. Lax is Quite Different

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Inevitably, every experience becomes a memory. The pain, sadness and even inspiration of tragedy become part of history. For the last three full seasons, the death of George Boiardi ’04 — a former Cornell defender — has provided the men’s lacrosse team with an indelible experience, a pain channeled into inspiration that drives the squad.
This year, however, is the first season that not a single Red player got the chance to ever play alongside Boiardi, who was arguably “the most inspiring person that this program has had in a number of years, if ever,” according to head coach Jeff Tambroni.
[img_assist|nid=29458|title=Larger than life|desc=Though none of the current players ever played with George Boiardi ’04 (21), his legacy still motivates the team’s performance.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
As Boiardi approached the end of his final season in a Red uniform, though, tragedy struck. Playing defense in the fourth quarter against Binghamton, a Bearcats’ attackman released a shot that struck Boiardi in the chest. The blunt, non-penetrating trauma caused sudden cardiac death — a rare occurrence.
Every year since that moment, another class that played alongside Boiardi graduated and left East Hill.
“The last three years have been so much about George because we’ve had one, two, or three classes that played with him,” Tambroni said after last week’s 12-5 win over Binghamton. “So I think the memory of what happened was just ingrained in their minds. … This year’s class can only listen to the lessons about George Boiardi and what it was like to be around him as a coach or as a player. It’s a different era, to be honest.”
It’s an era in which the lessons learned from Boiardi’s tenacious, relentless approach to life are still there, just not as tangible.
“It’s definitely a little more difficult for us,” said senior co-captain John Glynn, a midfielder. “We didn’t have that direct relationship and connection with George. Most of what has been passed down is through word and through stories from the older guys who played with him.”
It’s not that the coaches don’t do their part in continuing the legacy of Boiardi. Coaches and players alike said that the team talks about Boiardi all the time.
“We talk about [giving a George Boiardi effort] every game,” said junior defenseman Matt Moyer after the Binghamton win.
“We still talk about it quite a bit,” Tambroni agreed.
“We watch film of him and see him play, and that’s the kind of thing that we aspire to be and play like,” Glynn echoed later.
On the field, Boiardi was always “scrapping, getting ground balls, diving for loose balls and really working as a team,” Moyer said. Off the field, Boiardi was equally driven and intelligent. When he died, he was on the cusp of getting his degree in history and going to work for Teach For America.
He had the kind of personality that leaves an imprint on people. One that makes people strive to better themselves.
“When [his teammates] talked about him, it had a higher meaning,” Glynn said.
“The proof was in the productivity on the field,” Tambroni said. “All the heart, effort, enthusiasm and energy of last year’s team, of two year’s ago’s team, of 2005’s team.”
But there has been a noticeable difference in this year’s team.
“I’m not sure it’s sinks in as much as it did with last year’s team,” Tambroni said. “This year, I don’t sense that same energy — yet. I still think we’re looking for something to play for outside of ourselves or bigger than ourselves. I don’t think we’ve found that yet. I think we’re still hanging on to that legacy of George Boiardi and I hope it never leaves us, but this group has to find something that really energizes them and creates that passion we need to get to that next level.”
But for a program so defined and driven, to a certain extent, by a terrible tragedy, it is certainly hard to move on. After the Binghamton game last week, nearly the first words out of Moyer’s mouth were “George Boiardi.”
“This is a game that has a lot of meaning to our program,” he said in the postgame press conference. “George Boiardi in 2004 lost his life against this team. This is a game where we really talk about giving a George Boiardi effort.”
And no one can say that it is a bad thing to be playing in honor of someone people universally call an inspiration.
“But we need to find something that motivates us right now in the modern day,” Tambroni said. “And that’s not that we want to leave George behind. … But since these guys didn’t play with him, it’s difficult to really bring out the passion when it’s only the verbal word versus experience.”
Tambroni isn’t the only one to notice this trend. Glynn, with the other two co-captains, junior Max Seibald and senior Danny Nathan, called a captain’s meeting after the Binghamton game. No coaches, just a team trying to figure out its purpose for doing what it was doing — something many college students go through each day.
“We just talked about our team because right now we’re kind of chugging along and making good strides as a team, but after a couple of games, we felt like we weren’t enjoying it as much as we should have been,” Glynn said. We were kind of relieved that we were winning games, but not appreciating the chance to play.”
The team laid down a framework to drive itself for the rest of the season — a framework revolving around just playing, as clichéd as it sounds, for the love of the game.
“We talked about what we wanted to represent and what we wanted to play for,” Glynn said. “We talked about were playing just because we loved to play lacrosse. Playing for ourselves, playing for our teammates, playing just to represent Cornell — those were some of the biggest things we talked about.”
But as the experience of living through Boiardi’s death becomes a memory, and the pain and suffering and inspiration become part of history, it also becomes part of the Cornell lacrosse legacy.
“Our coaches and guys before us have definitely instilled in us the way he played — his heart and hustle — and it’s now a staple of Cornell lacrosse,” Glynn said.
So, while it may be impossible for the memory of George Boiardi to inspire the same way the experience of George Boiardi did, playing for Cornell lacrosse will always mean playing for Boiardi.
“They still take pride in playing for George through his memory,” Tambroni said.
Because when experiences and inspiration become mere memories and part of history, they also become part of a legacy — Cornell lacrosse’s legacy.