Marketing & Communications

One for the books: Lacrosse alumni raise $150,000 for athletic archives

By Bridget Tharp '06

Mickey Cochrane is a walking, talking media guide of Falcon Athletics. Preserving nearly 100 years of Falcon sport is a passion for Cochrane, who is the BGSU Athletic Museum archivist and co-founder, associate professor emeritus and beloved award-winning coach of lacrosse and soccer.

Now, a group of Cochrane's lacrosse alumni will honor their former coach, his long-time collaborator, Don Cunningham '43, '65, and the sport's legacy at BGSU by donating $150,000 to upgrade the athletic archives at Bowling Green State University. The gift will enhance the preservation of artifacts, expand the presentation area, and rename an area of the space in Cochrane and Cunningham's honor. The area will become a space where future Falcons can understand the legacy of BGSU Athletics.

"One of the most important things about the archives is preserving the other sports orphaned over the years so that people don't forget about them." The group expects their gift to support only the first phase of renovating the area, and are hopeful that others will contribute toward a $500,000 fundraising goal. The fundraising effort is rooted as much in a desire to honor and continue the work of Cunningham and Cochrane in the archives, as it is in preserving the legacies of varsity sports, including several that have been dropped, donors said.

"We're (alumni of) a sport that had a relatively short history, but a very, very successful one," said Art Curtis '71, '74, a football and lacrosse alumnus who is involved in the fundraising effort. Curtis was a graduate assistant coach to Cochrane and football coach Don Nehlen '58. "One of the most important things about the archives is preserving the other sports orphaned over the years so that people don't forget about them."

Many lacrosse alumni remain connected to their former coach, even four decades after graduation. That's because Cochrane was "a father figure" for players, many of whom were recruited from hundreds of miles away, said three-time All-American lacrosse player Mike Wilcox '75. Wilcox was a team captain, and later became chair of the BGSU Board of Trustees.

"As a coach, he was very unusual, very creative. If you weren't giving it your all, he would get your attention very quickly," Wilcox said of Cochrane, adding that even so, "He made it fun."

In 1970, Cochrane was honored as USILA Lacrosse Coach of the Year, and led men's lacrosse to an undefeated season and its first of three Midwest Lacrosse Association league championships. The varsity sport of men's lacrosse was discontinued in 1979. A dual-sport coach, Cochrane was also twice named Ohio Soccer Coach of the Year in 1969 and 1972 and led the team to two NCAA tournaments. He retired in 1985. The soccer field at BGSU is now named for him, and he was inducted into the National Soccer Coaches Association of American Hall of Fame in 1995.

"I was lucky," Cochrane said of his coaching tenure at BGSU. "We didn't have scholarships, but kids came. We had good people. And we ended up winning. Lacrosse only lost one game in the last two years."

His lacrosse and soccer players alike remember pre-game meetings at the Cochrane house, complete with sweets freshly baked by the coach's wife, Pat. It was during those visits that Cochrane would deliver an unusual sort of pre-game pep talk: a poem. Cochrane would deliver an original poem, which was written in iambic-pentameter and usually rhymed, Curtis recalled. A group of lacrosse alumni hold an annual reunion in Baltimore, and Cochrane still offers an original poem when the group calls him from the party.

Cochrane had a new poem for those who recently invested in the effort. He recited it for the raucous crowd of lacrosse alumni during a recent special event celebrating the fundraising effort at University House, the home of BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey.

It went like this:

"Back to BG, you come with great pride;
For 14 years you had the best ride;
The depth of your gifts cannot be denied;
For now Falcon past will be viewed far and wide.

"Mickey created an experience for anybody that played lacrosse at Bowling Green like none other," Curtis said. "He's an outstanding coach and an even better person. Being on one of Mickey's teams was truly like being part of a family."

Now, preserving artifacts of the memories of all Falcon sports is Cochrane's mission.

The archives' backstage feels more like a teensy museum than it does a storage room in the rear of the Stroh Center, since Cochrane keeps many artifacts out of their cartons to be propped for view on open shelving. Promotional posters and athletic awards fill most of the empty shelf space, and the evolution of the Falcon logo is apparent on the colorful uniform jerseys and co-ed apparel that Cochrane keeps on hangers. Visitors often favor the perfectly intact wool letter sweaters donned by Falcon women decades before their sports would be sanctioned by the NCAA and female athletes would be widely respected as "just as marvelous and as graceful and as talented as our men," Cochrane said.

Cochrane's memory seems to animate archival objects, which rotate between display in the Stroh Center lobby and the archives' rear storage area in the facility. His perspective enlivens the leather helmet worn by Falcon Football players circa 1919; the original plaque misprinted with male pronouns for the first female inductee to the BGSU Athletic Hall of Fame, coach Dorothy Luedke (she was presented a corrected version); and one of the first items purchased at an auction for the archives - legendary football coach Doyt Perry's letter sweater. Cochrane peers through glass at the game day ticket stubs from what Cunningham and Cochrane consider Falcon Athletics' "greatest win" on Feb. 16, 1963.

"We violated the fire laws like you can't believe. People were in the aisles," Cochrane said of the day All-American Nate Thurmond '63 led men's basketball to beat undefeated Loyola at Anderson Arena.

Those rare gaps in Cochrane's retrospection were easily reconciled by Don Cunningham, before the co-founder of the archives, golf coach and associate director of athletics emeritus died in 2000.

"He knew far more than I did," Cochrane said of his collaborator and friend Cunningham.

Cunningham's affinity for local history began when he was studying accounting and journalism at BGSU, his daughter, Cheryl Windisch '71, said. When his education was interrupted during the three years of World War II while he served overseas, Cunningham asked his wife to save every issue of the BG News that he would miss.

He spent most of his career serving as the first sports information director at BGSU, and most enjoyed traveling with student-athletes and scouring the local newspapers' records for accolades and news about Falcon teams, Windisch said.

Cunningham first noticed in 1961 that cartons of athletic memorabilia were susceptible to water damage in storage under the stands in Doyt Perry Stadium, Cochrane said. He enlisted Cochrane for help positioning a souvenir poncho over photos stored in the problem area.

The collection effort proved to be a two-person job. So after Cochrane retired in 1985, the two more actively sought Falcon memorabilia. Word of their efforts circulated quickly, and many alumni and friends gifted their Falcon treasures to them for what would become the athletics archive.

The archives were a passion shared by Cunningham and Cochrane, who "would bounce off each other, just feed off each other," Cunningham's daughter said.

"Both had a specialty. Mickey loved the artifacts, and Dad was more the statistician," Windisch said. "But they would spend hours together, say, trying to identify the people on teams from the 1930s and on. They wanted the archives to represent not just the All-Americans that everyone knew, but every student-athlete who went to Bowling Green."

The Cunningham family is grateful that their father's legacy will continue thanks to the donations to enhance the athletic archives, Windisch added.

"It's just evolved and my family is really excited about how the lacrosse (alumni) have taken this on as a tribute to their coach," Windisch said. "I'm just thrilled, because I know if my dad were alive, he'd say, 'Yes, this is what we hoped for.'"

Cochrane agrees, and is encouraged that a group of alumni value the athletic history enough to make such an investment. He hopes others follow their lead.

"I'd love to see every player who enjoyed their athletic experience here give something to the preservation," Cochrane said, "because every sport, both men's and women's, is represented -the ones that are here, the ones that are no longer here, and you want to save all of this. So I'm hoping many will come on board; it all has to be done with outside giving."

(Posted October 14, 2013 )