BOWLING GREEN - On most nights when the Falcons are playing at home and just trying to win a game inside Anderson Arena, Mickey Cochrane is busy in a small space just off the lobby, working to protect and preserve the memories of thousands of athletes and scores of championships.
The former soccer and lacrosse coach at Bowling Green State University engages in a labor of love in what used to be the Memorial Hall cloak room, while he weaves through a narrow aisle as boxes and stacks of Falcon sports antiquities push to the ceiling all around him.
For Bowling Green athletics, this is King Tut's tomb. It is the place where treasures and history wait for their story to be told.
There's a No. 9 wool game jersey worn by the quarterback of the 1941 football team, and a pennant from the 1961 Mercy Bowl at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where the Falcons played Fresno State. There's the first women's letter jacket, issued in 1979 to the lacrosse team, as well as signed hockey sticks and the NBA trading card for BGSU legend Howard "Butch" Komives.
Cochrane, who retired almost a quarter century ago, is the unofficial keeper of the keys to the unofficial Falcon Smithsonian. He is the volunteer curator of an extensive collection of memorabilia that he hopes will - finally - soon have a proper home.
"This isn't the best place for so many one-of-a-kind items like these," Cochrane said. "But there's really been no other place to put them right now. I hope that changes in the near future."
It should. Plans for the Stroh Center, a new 5,000-seat arena scheduled to open in 2011, call for the facility to include a prominently-placed Hall of Fame, complete with exhibits and display cases that will chart the history of Falcon athletics. There also will be an area for cataloging and storing materials, which will be displayed on a rotating basis.
"What we intend to do is be able to be a lot more structured and formal in how we present our history, not only with the materials that Mickey's got, but also with what we've got at a number of other locations around campus," BG athletic director Greg Christopher said. "We look at this space in the Stroh Center more as a way of telling the story of BGSU sports."
Cochrane, who also plans to help record an oral history of Falcon athletics, said he gathered some of the items in his closet museum from sites on campus, but most of them have come in from donors, unsolicited.
"People are really comfortable giving us things," he said. "They might have their uncle's letter sweater, or a picture of a championship team their brother played on, and they are happy to find a place where these things will be preserved and shared with others. I get new things all the time."
Cochrane's roots at the university are extensive. He coached his first soccer game for the Falcons almost 50 years ago, and led BG to the NCAA tournament in soccer in 1972 and 1973. The soccer stadium was named for him - 29 years ago. Christopher said the entire BGSU community is indebted to Cochrane for the meticulous care he has given to this collection.
"Bowling Green is very lucky to have Mickey Cochrane, not just for all that he did when he was a coach, but what he has continued to do after his retirement," Christopher said. "From a historical standpoint, what he's done in gathering and protecting these items is nothing short of amazing."
Toledo businessman Mike Wilcox, who was a lacrosse All-American at Bowling Green, said Cochrane's role in preserving Falcon history is even more critical for the sports that have been discontinued, like lacrosse and wrestling. Wilcox said Cochrane's archives will give the university the capability to properly remember these sports.
"He's kept the flame alive and preserved a legacy," Wilcox said. "When your jersey gets retired by your sport being eliminated, that's not a good feeling, but my hope is that when Mickey's collection moves to the Stroh Center, they'll do it justice. It's incredibly important that the complete athletic history be told."
Cochrane, who will be 81 when the new arena opens, said he is anxious to see the collection in its rightful home.
"All of the people like me who really grew up with Bowling Green are pretty aware of the great history in athletics," Cochrane said. "But for the students and their families and most everyone else, there's a lot of wonderful stories tucked away in this little room. Right now, everything just goes where it fits, but it will be quite a relief to see these things where they belong, out for all to see."
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