As Rob Pannell ’13 made the 220-mile drive from New York City to Ithaca for the Cornell men’s lacrosse’s alumni game in mid-October, the memories flooded back.
Nearing Cornell’s campus, Pannell was reminded of his time playing for the Red: the long practices, the early-morning workouts, the thrilling wins and the disappointing losses he experienced as a member of Cornell’s men’s lacrosse team.
“The drive up here was a time of reflection for me and my time at Cornell and the years that I spent here and how special they were to me,” Pannell said.
Similarly, while approaching Ithaca Max Seibald ’09 was taken back to his years with the program.
“Once you get off the exit at Whitney Point, you’re a stone’s throw away,” Seibald said. “Those last couple of miles, you start to get eager, you start to get memories. It’s kind of that rush of getting back and seeing everybody.”
Pannell and Seibald, who ended their careers as two of the most successful athletes in Cornell Athletics history, returned to Ithaca for a weekend of fun and reminiscing with friends. Coming back to Cornell and seeing former teammates is something the duo has always enjoyed.
“When it comes to the Cornell lacrosse alumni, we call it the Cornell lacrosse family,” Pannell said. “It really is a family, it’s very unique in that guys are always trying to get together.”
Pannell praised the tradition of Cornell men’s lacrosse alumni giving back to the program year after year.
“We saw that alumni cared for each other and the current team,” Pannell said. “We saw how things went about after you graduated and how special it was.”
Pannell and Seibald, both Tewaarton winners — the award given to the best collegiate lacrosse player in the nation — and three-time first team All-Ivy honorees, have continued their lacrosse careers post-graduation. Both play for teams in Major League Lacrosse, Pannell for the New York Lizards, Seibald for the Boston Cannons.
“I tried to pick up where I left off at Cornell,” said Pannell, who scored the most ever points in an MLL season this past year. “Whether it was college or professional, my mentality still stays the same. I just want to be the best player that I can be and still improve year over year and try and win as many games as possible and whatever happens in the process happens.”
Beyond racking up records, Pannell and Seibald have worked tirelessly to grow the game of lacrosse. Through camps and clinics across the nation, the two have made increasing lacrosse’s popularity one of their primary goals.
While nowhere near as popular as sports like basketball or soccer — approximately 777,000 youths played lacrosse in 2014, compared with 6.95 million for basketball and 6.61 million for soccer, according to The Wall Street Journal — lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports, thanks in part to the work of ad like Pannell and Seibald.
“It’s been an awesome experience getting to teach lacrosse in Texas and Nebraska and Minnesota and all over,” Seibald said. “It’s great to see the growth there. I’m always excited to be a part of it and share my experiences and things I’ve gotten from the game.”
Long a popular sport in the suburbs of New York, lacrosse never really gained much popularity in the city itself, according to Seibald. Through his volunteer work with CityLax, Seibald is trying to change that.
The organization, founded 10 years ago, offers students in public schools in the five boroughs the chance to play lacrosse. The charity funds everything from the equipment to salaries of the coaches, accord to Seibald.
“It provides awesome opportunities,” Seibald said. “There’s probably over 1,500 kids playing that wouldn’t have otherwise been introduced to the game. It’s cool to see the game grow right in my backyard and to be a part of that.”
Pannell and Seibald founded a company called 423 Alpha — Seibald wears No. 42, Pannell wears No. 3. According to Pannell, the company aims to teach the newest generation of lacrosse players many of the key principles of Cornell men’s lacrosse — both on the field and off.
“It’s all about teaching them the mindset that we were taught at Cornell,” Pannell said. “We want to teach them how to go about being a better player, what you want them to practice, what you want them to do.”
The duo played together only briefly while at Cornell, although they were successful in that one year, reaching the NCAA Championship game. In the MLL, they were also briefly teammates. Their close lacrosse relationship has translated into a successful business relationship.
“I’ve shared a lot of great experiences with him,” Seibald said. “It’s awesome to have some who is on the same page as far as the game and coaching and values, just perspective on most everything.”
Lacrosse still has a ways to go before it receives the same amount of national attention as football or basketball. Despite the uphill battle for lacrosse to gain national prominence, Pannell and Seibald said they are going to continue to work toward increasing the sport’s popularity around the country.
“We never really turn down an opportunity to be in some sort of lacrosse venture,” Pannell said. “We’re always trying to grow the game and looking to do something to support the growth of it.”
Seibald said he hopes that as lacrosse grows, those who play it maintain the same passion for the sport as they do now.
“The professional league is gaining support,” he said, “but I think most of us who are in it are playing for the love of the game and opportunity to compete at the highest level. Hopefully, it doesn’t stray from those values, because it’s not about anything else other than that.”