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  • Emma Garcia

Players of Purpose

Image Provided by Cornell Lacrosse

Billy Kephart (Left) and Jack Parker (Right)

Statistics, accolades, and media perception all capture external measures- none of which measure an athletic program’s impact on the lives of their players or community. Rather than defining sports teams based on quick facts or season records, we should look at the actions that build these programs up. Each team culture is unique, and it is kept and maintained by succeeding generations. Filled with humility and enriched with servant leadership, Cornell Men’s Lacrosse maintains a longstanding tradition of being active within the community.

This aspect of the Men’s Lacrosse program is one that alumni recognize as a vital component of the success on and off the field. Connor Buczek ‘15, the Richard M. Moran Head Coach of Men’s Lacrosse, explained, “This is a program where playing an active role in the community goes back generations. It goes back before our current team and even before I stepped on campus. Maintaining an active role in the community resonates with our guys and is an important part of being a Cornell Lacrosse player.”

However, it is impossible to discuss the value or community initiatives of Cornell Men’s Lacrosse without mentioning George Boiardi ‘04. George Boiardi, affectionately known in the program as “George,” a Cornell Lacrosse player who passed away during a game his senior spring. His name represents humility, service, impact, and an overall care of people. These principles reflect how George lived and are found within the program’s modern-day values. His lessons are passed down to players who never had the chance to meet him, his legacy is kept alive, and his words are yet to be heard by many.

George’s words, “Well done is better than well said,” can be seen in complete form or the often abbreviated version WD>WS. Rather than just talking about something, this way of thinking emphasizes taking action beyond just on the field.

Honoring the legacy of an essential figure in this program is not taken lightly. Each individual recognizes how their actions reflect George’s principles. Even nearly twenty years later, George’s words and number, 21, are found everywhere. The 21 Hard Hat is displayed at the bottom of each Men’s Lacrosse profile. Copies of The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon ‘93, a book that helps to tell the story of George Boiardi and his legacy, are well-read and heavily annotated.

George is ever-present in Cornell Lacrosse, appearing in their gear, uniforms, and locker room. His one-liner, represented by the hashtag #WD>WS, can be seen in many posts on the team’s social media platforms.

Every year, a captain is selected to carry “The Hard Hat,” which serves as a reminder to embody and strive for “Hard Hat” values. The Hard Hat, a red hard hat that dawns the “21,” serves as a powerful symbol of Boiardi’s legacy and Cornell Men’s Lacrosse core principles.

“The first week of school, I was handed the Hard Hat. It is a symbol of George. It is a symbol of bringing it on and off the field. I carry it with me every day, so when I see it in my locker, it reminds me that it is not just about you. It is about the others around you,” Senior Attackman CJ Kirst explained.

The Hard Hat may not always be noticeable to the general public, but it is always there. As the players practice, it is placed on the 21-yard line. This strategic placement serves as a reminder of a strong work ethic and the determination to strive to become a better person. By keeping the Hard Hat in plain sight to the players, the Hard Hat values are always in conversation.

Photography by Amanda Burkart

Pictured from Left to Right: Brian Piatelli, CJ Kirst, Aiden Blake, Griffin McGovern

“The Hard Hat” Can Be Seen Along the Sideline.

One of the causes close to George’s heart was children’s literacy, which led him to help found the Big Red Readers with Ladeen Case. Cornell Lacrosse players continue to honor this passion by participating in the Big Red Readers program. Current players Fifth-Year Midfielder Jack Parker, Senior Midfielder Caleb Newman, and Sophomore Defenseman Matt Dooley serve as the program’s co-chairs.

Through the Big Red Readers, the team partners with local elementary schools to set up a range of opportunities for players to interact with students in and out of the classroom. Each interaction creates the possibility of making a positive impact on a child. These opportunities include reading to classes and organizing field days where they teach children some of the fundamental skills of lacrosse.

Image Provided by Cornell Lacrosse

Pictured from Left to Right: Caleb Newman, Danny Boccafola, Brendan Staub

Caleb Newman explained, “As a part of the Big Red Readers, we spend time with kids who might be behind in their reading levels or might be a little harder to deal with in the classroom, so they require more individualized attention. Sometimes these students might not have the same situations at home, where they have that type of support in their schoolwork.”

When you hear how these players have seen these children develop as students, one may think that the children are left with lasting impressions. However, it is clear these interactions also heavily impact the players.

Taking a toy car out of his backpack, Caleb Newman explained how he carries the car around as a reminder of a friendship he formed with a student through the Big Red Readers and their impact on each other. When Newman spoke of any of these interactions, he did not focus on what he did for the student; instead, he spoke of how these experiences have brought him and his teammates closer to the Ithaca community.

Photography by Amanda Burkart

Pictured Left to Right: Walker Wallace, Danny Boccafola, Duke Reeder,

Michael Bozzi, CJ Kirst, Anthony Bartolotto

During the pandemic, in-person initiatives remained limited. With a service-drawn heart like Newman’s, he was led to Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a program that trains individuals for two and a half months and then sends them to developing countries, often countries with severe needs. During his involvement, Newman ultimately served within a community in South Sudan, Africa. This experience would rekindle this passion for service during a time when doing so was limited.

“I believe that I brought that passion back to Cornell, a passion that my coaches recognized,” expressed Newman. “I was extremely grateful when they offered me the opportunity to join the group of guys leading up the Big Red Readers.”

Another way the team honors George’s legacy is through the 21 Run. In partnership with the Mario St. George Boiardi Foundation, Cornell Lacrosse helps run the event every year. The 21 Run is a 5K run/walk event that occurs annually: it helps to continue the mission to connect children and families with reading and promote local literacy efforts.

Since COVID-19, the 21 Run has shifted to a virtual event where individuals can get involved with the cause regardless of their proximity to Cornell. Head Coach Buczek shared the hope of the run developing into a hybrid event to bring back some of the in-person aspects of the run, such as the Read-Alouds or the Bookmaking Tent, all while maintaining the ability to connect people to the cause beyond just Ithaca.

“Coming into Cornell, I did not fully understand the culture or history of everything Cornell Lacrosse before my freshman year, but it was quick to learn and understand. As you grow and develop within the program, these aspects of Cornell Lacrosse become a part of you on a deeper level,” Parker acknowledged. “So, while I never met George Boiardi, I was four years old when he passed away; I feel like I have learned so much about him as a person, leader, and man. Given that I have the opportunity to continue his legacy, it is an honor.”

Newman shared a similar sentiment: “Talk is cheap, but our actions set the standard. True legacy comes from your ability to impact the people around you. I believe that was the way that George lived his life. I believe that he lived a life of impact. That is the life that I hope to live someday.”

While the 21 Run takes place in November, their involvement in various programs spans over the year and continues even when they return home. Parker recalled the Adopt-A-Family program through the Salvation Army, which the team was involved in during his freshman year. Individuals volunteer to get gifts for families, alleviating some of the financial responsibility on the family during the holiday season.

In previous years, the team has partnered with Cayuga Medical to help organize clothing drives. The team has also sported their shaved heads to raise money and awareness for the Sarcoma Center at Dana-Farber through the Hope Street Foundation. They are always open to new ways to give back to the community and help others.

The team also hopes to collaborate with the Greater Ithaca Activity Center to organize a field day to teach kids how to play lacrosse, regardless of background. The field day would enable children to get introduced to the sport without a long-term commitment.

Image Provided by Cornell Lacrosse

Matthew Perfetto (Left), Duke Reeder (Center), Brendan Staub (Right)

Parker stated, “Many of our community initiatives are led by upperclassmen. It is something that, as a player, can see early on when you are an underclassman. As you get older and become more involved, it is something that many of us take pride in.”

Upperclassmen take it upon themselves to ensure these lessons are taught and this tradition is carried on. When they see a teammate finding it difficult to obtain their role in creating a positive, they look to George.

“George was a man who not only had an impact on the field, but his impact off the field was even greater. He was the ultimate servant leader. He was the ultimate teammate. Pointing to any aspect of George’s life as to who we should strive to be when we step into the locker room or put on a Cornell uniform is what we are all about,” Newman praised.

“When I came to campus for a visit with Coach Stevens, I remember him showing me George’s locker and the plaque outside the locker room. He started describing George’s life, the legacy he left on the team, the campus, and the people around him,” Newman recalled vividly. “Something in my heart stirred in that moment. I began thinking to myself that I wanted to lead my life in a way George did. A life of purpose, a life of impact.”

In those first moments at Cornell, Newman became aware of George’s impact on Cornell Lacrosse’s culture, a culture he wanted to be a part of. The core values being shown and explained to him lined up with the life he hopes to live.

There is an emphasis on showing up and doing what you can when you can. They might not be able to involve themselves directly every single time, but each time they can, it makes just as much of an impact.

This is a culture that is created not with one action but over multiple everyday actions. “Some opportunities to give back might not always seem like a huge deal, but they can be a huge deal for someone else. When given the opportunity, even if it is outside of your comfort zone, to brighten someone else’s day is a great way to live your life,” Parker expressed.

Back home, Parker is actively involved with the Jarred Coleman Foundation in honor of Jarred Coleman, a lacrosse player who passed away due to a motor vehicle accident. Through the Western Michigan Lacrosse community and a coach he had when he was younger, he was connected with the foundation to help with lacrosse clinics over the summer. Parker noted, “Through my involvement back home and initiatives through Cornell Lacrosse, I am able to teach and give back in ways that have been extremely impactful on me.”

Newman’s upbringing of serving others at a young age, instilled by his family, is reflected in the programs he is proud to have participated in: “I have served in orphanages in Mexico. I have helped build life centers in India and have been serving others all around the world. My passion for serving originates from my family and my faith. Fortunately, I carried on this passion at Cornell, especially on this team—this team has service at the epicenter.”

Through Cornell Lacrosse and personal initiatives, players build up a community of support. Each player recalled the times kids they worked with showed up to their games or caught them out and about. By drawing the community together, the team is also drawn together; that is the true benefit of serving together.

Photography by Amanda Burkart

Pictured from Left to Right: Andrew Dalton, Hugh Keller, Matthew Perfetto,

Jack Parker, Kyle Smith, Marc Psyllos, Jayson Singer

“We don’t recruit based on talent; Cornell Men’s Lacrosse recruits men of character. This is something that they value above all else. At the end of the day, Cornell Men’s Lacrosse players are men of character, and that is how they should be known,” Newman ended as a departing message.

Men of Character is a great way to describe these men. Cornell Lacrosse players are selfless, humble, giving, and enriched in servitude. When they speak of their initiatives, when you listen to their stories and see or hear how they honor those who came before them, it leaves you with the feeling that these men are the purest of hearts. They don’t do it for reputation; they do it out of an innate component of being a Cornell Lacrosse player.


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