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Protect the Players

In light of the tragic deaths of college lacrosse players struck in the chest by opponents' shots, it's time the college and high school lacrosse governing bodies require more protective gear in the sport.

The college lacrosse world is mourning the loss of Cornell University player George Boiardi, who died after being struck by an opponent's shot from close range during a game Wednesday against Binghamton at Cornell's Schoellkopf Field.

Boiardi was 22. A senior defenseman and an exemplary student, he was looking forward to graduation this May. The tragedy sadly erased those plans and leaves family, teammates and classmates to grieve.

In 1999, University of Massachusetts longstick midfielder Eric Sopracasa was hit in the chest with a shot and died on the field during practice. In 2000, Long Island high school goalie Louis Acompora died after stopping a shot with his chest. In 2001, Penfield native and Rochester Institute of Technology lacrosse player Todd Bernhardt was struck in the chest by an errant shot during pre-game drills. He went into cardiac arrest and died seven days later.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research reports that the fatality rate for lacrosse players per 100,000 from 1983-2002 was already at 1.90 compared to 0.67 for baseball and 0.53 for football during the same period.

In short, it's time for the sport of lacrosse to update its equipment requirements to include chest protectors for all players, not just goalies, as is the current policy.

"I said years ago, that we have to adjust our equipment on the speed of the game," former Cornell coach Richie Moran said. "Football has added a lot. Why haven't we? The velocity of the ball has increased tremendously with the advent of plastic sticks."

Others wisely are joining the call to require chest protection. They include Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, as well as Binghamton coach Ed Stephenson, who knelt in stunned silence with his players as emergency medical personnel tried to save Bioardi's life. Moran said the Intercollegiate Men's Coaches Association, a lacrosse oversight committee which he heads, may have to expand its reach to this area. That's a start.

Ultimately, the NCAA must make the decision to require chest protectors and bring players into compliance. Players may prefer less equipment because they enjoy the flexibility and dislike the restriction of a protector. But the tragedies make it clear that safety must come first.