ITHACA, NY -- Over the past 17 years, local sports fans have seen many photos of George Boiardi, the Cornell lacrosse player who died on the field after being struck in the chest during a game against Binghamton on March 17, 2004. Of course, George’s image is frozen in time — a handsome and hopeful young man dedicated to his family, his university, his teammates and his adopted community here in Ithaca.
Over the weekend, I watched “The Boiardi Effect,” the new mini-documentary released by the Big Red Sports Network (BRSN), and while all of the people interviewed (including current players) put forth compelling words about George’s impact on the program and their lives, I was especially drawn to the comments made by Ian Rosenberger and Tim Kirchner. Ian and Tim both played with George —they were among those that kneeled, embraced and prayed while emergency medical treatment was being provided on the field that day. They kept praying while their teammate was taken away in an ambulance, and no member of that team will ever forget the collective wave of grief that swept over them a couple of hours later when then-head coach Jeff Tambroni was tasked with sharing the news that George did not survive.
Seeing those guys in the film offers a glimpse of what George might look like now. He would be 38 years old, and while we do not know precisely how his career might have unfolded, we can be sure that he would be the type of person described in a BRSN press release promoting the film. In that release, Michael Seitz, BRSN’s CEO, writes, “In our current state of vulnerability, we hope to inspire change makers and do-gooders everywhere by telling a powerful story of leadership born from tragedy.”
Seitz and Jay Klein (who serves as BRSN’ President of Strategy & Operations) were kind enough to speak with me about the mini-documentary (the film is 9 minutes long), and while neither of them ever met Boiardi, they have nonetheless been made aware of his lasting impact on the lacrosse program. “We are very close to many of the student-athletes,” Seitz offered, “and I was talking to my friend, J.J. Lombardi — who is a current member of the lacrosse team and a guy who helps out with the team’s community connections —and we talked about the 21 Run and it got me thinking how these lessons in leadership are everlasting.”
Seitz went on to say, “We have such a large following of students and student-athletes, and the pandemic has left such a disconnect. People are really missing the vibrancy of athletics, and at such a critical juncture we are grateful to be able to share such a powerful and uplifting tale of influence.”
The 16th annual 21 Run (Boiardi wore #21) was held virtually last November. Given George had planned to dedicate his life to teaching (and had, just before his passing, interviewed with Teach for America), the 21 Run raises funds for local literacy programs, and the event is just one of the community-wide events launched in his memory.
One of the people interviewed in the film is Connor Buczek, class of 2015, who was an All American at Cornell, a Major League Lacrosse player, and the current Richard M. Moran Head Coach of Men’s Lacrosse at Cornell. While Buczek arrived on campus seven years after Boiardi’s passing, he is well aware of the impact of #21’s legacy. In the film, Buczek says, “He set the standard for all of us. He is a huge part of who we are.” Rosenberger — who grew up with Boiardi and was his roommate and teammate at Cornell — added, “George was always the last guy in the locker room, and he’d see a teammate that was having a bad day and he’d say, ‘Come on. I’ll give you a ride home.’”
Richie Moran, the three-time national championship Hall of Fame coach in whose name the head coaching position is endowed, spoke of a library dedication in Boiardi’s name. Moran watched the documentary and said, “George’s dad played lacrosse at Princeton, he played against my teams, and I’m very pleased that George’s legacy extends beyond athletics and impacts the community.”
Regarding BRSN’s larger mission, Jay Klein said, “With no sports, we have had to get incredibly creative in our efforts to engage our audience.” He added, “Sports are a great way to tell stories, and going forward, we are looking to amplify the voices of underrepresented athletes, like people of color, female athletes and athletes with disabilities.”
“The Boiardi Effect” can be viewed on BRSN’s YouTube channel, and the media group is on Instagram at Cornellbrsn.