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Memory helps you hold onto things you love. It's a diary we all carry with us, the pilot light that still flickers. It's also the absolute best way to live in the hearts of those left behind. Technically, Saturday's Mark Colligan Memorial Indoor Track and Field Meet is a competitive event that brings Georgia, Illinois, Akron and Michigan (women only) to the Bob Devaney Sports Center. But this meet is so much more than that because it carries the name of a Husker coach who died unexpectedly last summer.
Nebraska Head Coach Gary Pepin says: "It's our way to say: 'Mark, you did a great job here. You were a great guy, and you're always going to be remembered by the athletes you coached and the staff you were a part of. It's our way of saying: We haven't forgotten you, partner. We appreciate all you've done for us, all you've done for the university and all of the kids that gave you a chance to touch their lives.'"
Pepin said Colligan enjoyed great success because he had a special love for Nebraska kids in general and their development in particular. Colligan coached walk-ons with the same level of energy and passion that he coached world-class recruits. "He would take lightly recruited athletes or athletes who weren't even recruited at all and teach them and develop them and mentor them into adults," Pepin said.
For those who don't know, Mark Colligan is a former Pepin assistant who came within a year of celebrating anniversary No. 30 on Nebraska's staff, but died on the first day of the NCAA Outdoor Championships last summer at Drake University in Des Moines. He was 47, and the jolt is still there for the Nebraska track and field family that collectively will honor a unique man in a special way.
This is one meet when competition takes a back seat to respect, when performance is important, but honor moreso. Saturday has a different objective, not to mention a different feel. It is Nebraska's way to keep the memory of "Coose" Colligan alive. Even a world record would play second fiddle to the launch of this memorial meet.
Weight Throw: The Obvious Launch for This Meet
Appropriately, the competition begins promptly at 12:30 p.m. Saturday with Colligan's special expertise: the women's and men's weight throw, followed by the women's and men's shot put. The Huskers will dig deep with every throw and hope they honor Coose's incredible legacy.
Nebraska's perennial conference championship-contending teams will do their very best. But here's the truth: Whatever they achieve on the track or in the field Saturday afternoon will rank behind what fans will watch at 12:10 p.m.: a HuskerVision video so poignant that Pepin and his staff chose to show it to both teams on Wednesday.
Twenty minutes before Saturday's competition, the video will salute Colligan and showcase some of the memories he left behind. The video in essence becomes a telephoto lens, magnifying the simple things and precious memories that are built around moments that were unnoticed at the time.
If you want to see the impact Colligan had on Nebraska's track and field program, check the memories they shared with us in this column, followed by this N-Sider after Coose's funeral. Former athletes, current athletes, friends, fans and family went to great lengths to share their memories of a life well lived.
"There hasn't been a day that has gone by that I haven't thought about Mark," said Mark Kostek, Colligan's best friend, former Husker track assistant and now vice president for Sports and Development at the Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau. Kostek and Scott Warren, Nebraska's record-holder in the javelin, were waiting to meet Coose in the javelin area at the NCAA Championships, and their buddy never showed up. Pepin found his longtime assistant dead in his hotel room and handled the tough job of breaking the news to those who needed to know first.
He Misses Coose's Innovative Mind, Long Talks
"As I continue to coach, many of the concepts and techniques that I work into my sessions are the result of brain-storming and trials with Mark," Kostek said. "I really miss him. I miss his innovative mind and our long talks about throwing. It was always comforting to know when we were being challenged that we were just a phone call away for each other."
Kostek bases his friendship with Coose on four simple words: Any place, any time. "The circumstance or situation meant nothing," Kostek said. "We were always there for each other and would go anywhere for each other."
Saturday, Mark Kostek will be the meet referee for the first Mark Colligan Memorial Meet. "It means a great deal to me," he said. "It provides me an opportunity to honor my friend and to serve the sport that we both love deeply and to assure that competitors have an equitable contest. I thank Gary and the entire Husker family for allowing me the privilege of being a part of keeping Coose's memory alive and to stay connected with so many individuals in Lincoln that mean so much to me and my family."
Jean Colligan, sons Max and Sam and daughter Jessica will be at the Devaney Center's indoor track Saturday. They'll watch a video that celebrates the life of their husband and dad, and then they will cheer on student-athletes he recruited and coached. Both Husker teams will compete in his honor. It won't be easy, but will be memorable, keeping Coose alive in that little diary still inside their heads and the pilot light that still flickers in their hearts.