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Obituary ~ Kenneth Curtis "Ken" Cochran
December 16, 1932 ~ November 29, 2017
Horizons, Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa
Winter 2018 Issue
Kenneth Cochran, Graceland University Hall of Fame inductee (1989), passed away Nov. 19, 2017, at the age of 84 — one month shy of his 85th birthday. Cochran ’52 received an Associate of Arts degree from Graceland with physical education as his major. He was a Gimper and played on the men’s basketball team and the club baseball team.
In 1956, Cochran served as the starting catcher on the Olympic Baseball Team. Cochran’s coaching career spanned a quarter of a century, and when he left coaching at the age of 48 after suffering a heart attack, he remained involved with basketball. He invented the widely popular Pop-A-Shot game and was longtime director of the Heart of America Basketball Camps and Clinics in Salina, Kansas.
Cochran was inducted into six halls of fame — NAIA, Kansas Sports, Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, Kansas Wesleyan, Graceland University and Joplin, Missouri. He established the Graceland University Ken Cochran Endowed Scholarship to assist tennis and men’s and women’s basketball players.
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Ken Cochran was born December 16, 1932, Pratt, Kansas. He graduated Joplin (Mo.) H.S., 1950; Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg, 1955; MS - Kansas State College of Pittsburg, 1959.
The man who turned an all-women's college into a national small college men's basketball power, Kenneth Curtis Cochran guided the Marymount Spartans to national prominence in the 1970s and early '80s. The Salina college started enrolling men in the late 1960s and Cochran moved across town from Kansas Wesleyan to Marymount where he started the basketball program in 1970.
Cochran was a four-sport star at Joplin (Mo.) High School before attending Graceland (Iowa) College for two years and Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg for three more. He was the starting catcher on the 1956 U.S. Olympic exhibition baseball team, which played in front of 125,000 fans in Melbourne, Australia - the largest crowd ever to see a game at that time.
Cochran was a high school coach for seven years before coming to Kansas Wesleyan in 1963 where he led the Coyotes to three conference titles in basketball and baseball. In 11 seasons, the Spartans won the NAIA District 10 title five times and finished second the other six times. Cochran posted a dazzling 401-118 record and his teams won 106 consecutive home games from 1970 to '78 and were nationally ranked every year. Following his retirement from Marymount in 1981, Cochran invented the Pop-A-Shot electronic basketball game in 1982 and the Foul Shot Free Throw Trainer in 1992. He has been inducted in five different halls of fame.
Ken Cochran died on November 19, 2017, Joplin, Missouri.
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The Joplin Globe, Joplin, Missouri
November 21, 2017
Former Joplin coach Ken Cochran dies
By Jim Henry
Ken Cochran's accomplishments in sports are numerous to say the least.
He was Joplin High School's baseball coach in 1959 when the Eagles won the state championship. In the 1960s and '70s he became one of the winningest small-college basketball coaches in Kansas, first at Kansas Wesleyan and then at Marymount, both located in Salina, Kansas. During that time he began the Heart of America Sports Camp, and after a heart attack forced him to quit coaching, he invented the Pop-A-Shot arcade basketball game.
Cochran, who moved back to Joplin in January after living 50 years in Salina, died at 3 a.m. Sunday. He was one month shy of his 85th birthday.
"He had his first heart attack when he was 48 years old and had heart issues since then," his daughter, Susan Cochran, said on Tuesday. "That's how he invented the Pop-A-Shot game. He was recovering from a heart attack, knew he had to get out of coaching, and it became a global phenomenon. It's amazing.
"He was sharp as a tack right up to the end," Susan said. "He was not diminished in any way whatsoever. In his house in Joplin he has a Pop-A-Shot game, a ping pong table and a pool table in a room downstairs with all his memorabilia. His heart just couldn't quite keep up with everything."
Cochran, a Joplin High School graduate, coached baseball seven years at his alma mater, headlined by the 1959 state crown at Busch Stadium (formerly Sportsman's Park) in St. Louis.
The Eagles beat St. Louis University High in the semifinals and Ferguson in the championship game by identical 1-0 scores.
In 1956 Cochran was a member of the United States Olympic baseball team that beat Australia 11-5 in a six-inning game.
"A lot of people probably don't know that about Ken," Susan said. "Baseball was a demonstration sport that year, and that game was played in front of the largest crowd to ever watch an amateur baseball game — 114,000. People came to see the track and field competition and stayed for the baseball game."
Cochran left JHS to become head basketball coach at Kansas Wesleyan, where he compiled a 111-57 record and won two KCAC championships in seven years. Then when Marymount College went from being an all-girls school to coed in 1970, Cochran was hired by athletics director Larry Muff — the son of former Pittsburg State and current Washburn Rural High School basketball coach Kevin Muff — to be the men's basketball coach.
Cochran coached 11 years at Marymount, and nine of those teams reached the NAIA District 10 championship game. Marymount won five district titles, and the 1975-76 teams finished 31-3 and won third place in the NAIA Tournament. Marymount also had a 106-game winning streak at home — longest in the country. While at Marymount Cochran began the Heart of America sports camp.
"He figured about 90,000 kids went through his camp along with a ton of great coaches," Susan Cochran said. "Brad Underwood, the coach at Illinois, was one. Dick Nagy, who was an assistant under Lou Hinson at Illinois and Jimmy Collins at University of Illinois-Chicago, drove from Chicago to sit at Dad's bedside and watch a game with him."
Kevin Muff was one of the campers at the first camp.
"Dick Nagy taught you to take charges on the asphalt," Muff said. "Dick Nagy would line you up, dribble right at you and run you over on the asphalt at Marymount — not in the gymnasium, the asphalt. You learned how to be tough ... don't make excuses.
"All those things your parents teach you, they were reinforced at the Heart of America camps. We had 450 kids at camp. My dad hired Coach Cochran, and if he had still been coaching when I got out of high school, I would have gone to Marymount."
The Cochran family has heard from many friends and former players.
"What we're hearing from players is he was such a loving, compassionate person and kept in touch with the players," Susan said. "Players have said he helped me get this job, he helped me when my wife died ... he was there. Things we didn't know, they were wonderful to hear.
"People said for as hard and tough as he was as a coach, he had a soft heart that was equal to that. He was a humanitarian. He raised money after the Joplin tornado (in 2011). He sent soccer balls and T-shirts to Africa. He was very much in the forefront of standing up for civil rights. He was a big believer in the work of all people."
Cochran and surviving members of the 1959 JHS baseball team also raised money to create the Wendell Redden Most Valuable All Sports Award, a 4x8-foot, 120-pound display named in honor of the former Globe sports editor and presented to the MVP each year in all 19 Joplin High School sports.
Cochran also was known for cracking one-liners, and that continued right up until the end.
Larry Muff told The Salina Journal: "(Ken's) comment to Susan after she said 'Dad, you're going to a much more peaceful place,' he said 'Yeah, until I get there.'''
Susan Cochran said the family plans to hold a memorial service in January in Joplin.
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2018