Updated Fri, Feb 7, 2014 3:57 pm
Off the mats Ohio wrestlers KeVon Powell, 125 pounds, and Jacob Rockoff, 141, have developed quite the friendship in their two years in Athens. The lightweights’ origins in wrestling are very different, but they each share a common bond. They each share the thrill of collecting.
Rockoff possesses an assortment of more than 250 pieces of sports memorabilia.
Powell bolsters a selection of 53 pairs of Nike shoes.
After playing basketball and football at a very young age, Powell was introduced to wrestling at the age of six. His father wrestled in high school and suggested the sport to his son. A young KeVon emphatically agreed but he now admits his initial disappointment. Before he actually saw the wrestling mats he says he was expecting a center-stage ring, sectioned off with blue and red rope. He curtailed his expectations and became a dominant wrestler, placing all four years at the Illinois State Tournament and winning a state title in his time at Montini Catholic High School.
Rockoff’s first love in sports was baseball. He grew up a fan of the New York Yankees and idolizing shortstop Derek Jeter. His first major exposure to wrestling did not come until his senior year of high school.
“I just felt like it was something I could do with my time,” he said. “And then I just started liking the sport.”
He liked it enough that he decided to walk on to head coach Joel Greenlee’s squad. “I just wanted to see how much farther I could go, see if I could get any better,” he said.
His love for baseball spilled over in to the beginnings of an impressive sports memorabilia collection. It all started with a signed game ticket from former major league third baseman Casey Blake. Rockoff acquired the ticket when he was in sixth grade, after he had attended a Cleveland Indians game for the first time.
For Powell, sport was just a contributing factor to his sneaker collection. What really started it for the Chicago-native was a TV show. Growing up, Powell, a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, admired Will Smith’s extensive collection of shoes.
“Every episode I would just see him with a new pair of shoes on,” Powell said. “He just dressed so differently. He had a style apart from everyone else. It kind of got me started . . . I feel like how I present myself is a big part of my life, and I like to present myself well.”
Rockoff’s collection comprises of around 130 baseballs, baseball cards, photographs, basketball cards, footballs, football helmets, a couple of jerseys and other miscellaneous items of memorabilia. As impressive as 130 autographed baseballs may be, what is more impressive is that Rockoff has personally had approximately 100 balls signed by players. Additionally, all of the baseballs on which he has acquired autographs were amassed at games he attended.
His methods for acquiring both balls and autographs all start with being at a baseball game sometimes hours in advance.
Living just a half hour’s drive from Progressive Field, the home of the Indians, and being a fan of the team, means that Rockoff gets most baseballs at Tribe games. Once at the stadium he waits in the facility’s parking lot for players of both the home and away team to show up for pregame responsibilities. It is there where players will sign autographs for fans.
“I make it into like tailgating event, and as they go in I see if they sign or not,” he said.
When fans are allowed into the stadium Rockoff watches players take batting practice and there he tries to get his hands on any baseball that makes it into the stands. Once the actual game begins, he does his best to come away with balls from foul swings, home runs and any that fielders may throw into the stands.
“The collection means a lot to me because I’ve put a lot of hard work and money into getting that stuff,” Rockoff said. “And I feel like it is something I can pass on to my kids someday.”
Powell says his shoes do not carry the same sentimental value Rockoff finds in his memorabilia collection, and that is partly due to the difference in time spent by each wrestler in acquiring their respective interest. Simply put, Powell does not have to put in much time in acquiring his shoes. So long as he has the proper funds, it takes just a few clicks here-and-there online or a trip to the shoe store. In addition, while he does not rule out passing on his love of shoes onto his children someday, he does not see his shoes as possessions to pass down to family.
But perhaps one day, Powell might just buy his children a pair of kicks. That is, of course, how Powell started his collection. He was six when he got his first pair of memorable shoes. They were a present from his father – a pair of Jordan XIIs. From then, Powell insists his collecting days did not officially start until he was a freshman in high school. The first pair he bought for himself was a pair of grey Jordan XIs.
Those are just two pairs of Jordans. All together, Powell’s Jordan collection tops out at 27, but to go along with those he has 12 LeBrons and a couple pairs of Kobes and Kevin Durants.
Of all those shoes, Powell says he cannot pick out his favorite, but he can pick his favorite style.
“Stylistic-wise my favorite pair would probably be any of the four pairs of Jordan Vs I have,” he said. “I’m not really sure which color that would be, but any pair of the Vs is definitely my favorite.”
For Rockoff, his favorite piece of memorabilia is a baseball signed by a future hall-of-famer in Jim Thome. The former first baseman and designated hitter personally signed the ball for Rockoff.
“He signed it right on the spot of the baseball where it’s perfect, right where he usually doesn’t like to sign so it’s hard to get,” Rockoff said.
In addition to his Thome-autographed baseball, another baseball he treasures is a birthday gift from his father – a baseball signed by hall-of-famer Yogi Berra. On it, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” – a classic “Yogi-ism” – is written. Another notable piece in Rockoff’s collection is a baseball signed by Angels outfielder Mike Trout. The ball, which he acquired last summer, is the latest addition to his plethora of autographs.
While Rockoff often has to wait for baseball to be in season to add a new item, shoes are never out of season for Powell. In fact, he just received a shipment a week ago. Inside a box that still remains to be opened is a pair of powder blue Jordan IIIs.
“Every time I get a new shoe people are always like, ‘Wow. Why do you spend so much money on shoes?’” Powell said. “Hey. I like to look good,” he said with a laugh.
The duo is always adding to their host of goods, and they each have their eyes on their next additions. Ohio wrestling’s biggest baseball fan is set on getting his hands on a personally signed autograph from New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who is his favorite athlete.
Ohio’s 125-pounder says he wants to someday own an original pair of Jordans. “Something just to say I’ve got it; something with more value,” he said.
Such a pair of shoes would be quite different for Powell, because he says he actually wears about 75 percent of the 53 pairs he owns. The few that he no longer wears with regularity are older pairs that have been substituted out of his everyday wardrobe in favor a newer pair of the same color.
The colors of his shoes are even a factor on the wrestling mat. He says he owns 10 pairs of wrestling shoes. His favorite shoe is a pair of adidas from the 1990’s. The grey and green color scheme fit nicely with the Green and White’s singlets.
Rockoff sees his memorabilia collection translate to the wrestling mat in the work he puts into both collecting and wrestling. “I’ve put a lot of hard work and time into [the baseballs] and I think I do the same thing with wrestling,” he said.
“And I guess the more time and hard work you put in to something, the more you’re going to get out of it.”