Tarbell attributes his lacrosse ability to his roots in the box game, where the smaller space means increased pressure and the need to make quicker decisions. For his teammates, Clarke Petterson and Jeff Teat, they see it as a product of his love of the game and his experience on the reservation.
“Kason is a really quiet guy, but he always likes to lighten the mood,” says Petterson. “So if you don't know him for that long, you'll think he just likes to hang out, but he really enjoys putting in the extra work. He has fun doing it. There are a lot of guys who go out and shoot by themselves and they're focused on getting their shots done and they have the goal of doing it to get better. But Kason takes a different approach. He’s out there because he loves it. He’s doing the extra work because it’s fun for him, and the result is that he gets better.”
“He's been playing lacrosse for a long time, probably a lot longer than most other players,” adds Teat. “And he's also been able to play with some special players because of the culture he was brought up in. He plays with Lyle Thompson (a member of the Onondaga Nation), who is one of the best players in the world right now, and Kason’s won the Minto Cup and a Founders Cup. He's been a part of some special teams with some special players, so he's been able to learn and grow.”
Tarbell is currently in the process of trying out for another potentially special team as he goes through the selection process for the Iroquois Nationals as they prepare to compete in the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse Men's World Championship. Tarbell advanced through the first round of cuts and participated with the Nationals in a pair of games on Oct. 1 against Team Israel and the University of Albany.
Former Cornell lacrosse player Scott Burnam '91 is the General Manager of the Nationals and has been watching Tarbell intently during the process.
“I feel Kason has had a good showing thus far,” he says. “He played well in both of the scrimmages … made a few ‘hustle plays’ that the coaches took note of. I think he is a very talented player, and he knows the game well. We have a lot of guys that have only played box lacrosse, so having guys like Kason that know the field game is important and beneficial to the team.”
After graduating this May with a degree in Development Sociology and a minor in American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Tarbell plans to return to Akwesasne and hopefully further his playing career not just with the Nationals but in the National Lacrosse League, the professional box league that currently features nine teams in the United States and Canada.
“Being at Cornell has been great,” says Tarbell. “It’s given me the chance to make new friends and have a lot of new experiences. I’ve been able to see what life is like off the reservation, but I plan to move back. I just can’t see myself living anywhere else.”
While Tarbell is still unsure of what his day job will be, it seems inevitable that the will find a way to continue to be a quiet leader and inspire others. When he was a senior in high school, Salmon River hosted a gathering to honor positive role models. Most students brought family members, teachers, or coaches – Tarbell was the only student honored by a fellow student. At Cornell, his teammates and coaches see him as a role model and leader as well.
“He is a quiet leader,” says Milliman. “He's not a rah-rah guy. But all the guys on the team have a respect for him because of the way he carries himself. He's got a connection with everybody. From my perspective, they all love playing with him. I love coaching him.”
Ansley Jemison, who works at Cornell in the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, agrees that Tarbell has a bright future ahead of him. Jemison knows Tarbell through both his former position as the Residence Hall Director at Akwe:kon, the nation's first university residence hall established to celebrate American Indian culture and heritage, and through his work as the Executive Director of the Iroquois Nationals.
“Kason is going to return to the community and try and assist and be a leader there,” says Jemison. “Lacrosse can be a path for a lot of young people to pursue their education and Kason is one of those talents. With those educational opportunities, you're developing leaders and Kason is one of those kids – Cornell educated; doing well in school; doesn't party; doesn't drink. He's a natural, humble leader. He can make a real difference there.”