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Sports Museum Reopens in Cambridge

Life-Size Sculptures of Larry Bird, Bobby Orr Greet New England Fans in Mall

By Helen L. Limm, Contributing Reporter

Next time you go to the mall, don't be surprised to see Celtics star Larry Bird or Bruins star Bobby Orr.

Bird's and Orr's life-size sculptures are both part of the displays at the Sports Museum of New England, which recently moved to a new location at the CambridgeSide Galleria.

The $3 million, 18,000 square foot museum, designed to commemorate local athletes and events, is being moved from Brighton to the upscale mall this year.

Ex-Celtic Dave Cowens conceived of the idea for a sports museum in the 1980s as an educational service.

"Our mission is education, entertainment and enrichment--the three E's," said museum business manager Brenda Cook.

In addition to Boston-area professional athletes, local college and high school sports will be featured. Female athletes, the Special Olympics and the Head of the Charles will be found in other displays.

"We don't want folks to think we're about elite professional sports," said museum curator Dick Johnson.

Tentative plans also include an "interactive children's area" which will allow youngsters to try on equipment and practice on sample courts.

Officials said that proceeds from the museum's gift shop as well as patron donations are being contributed to public service programs created by the museum's directors to encourage Boston high school students to remain in school.

"Rarely, if at all do these schools receive attention from athletes or the NBA [National Basketball Association]," said Johnson. "We're one of the first in the league."

The CambridgeSide mall's current owner, the New England Development Corporation, will pay $1 million towards the construction of the museum, providing the rest can be generated through pledges.

Sports fans from around the Boston area said that the museum would be a boon to the mall.

"It's great," said Joe Kane, a Somerville resident. "I get to enjoy something that I have experienced and also some things I was too young to remember."

"I thought it would just cover baseball, basketball and football," said Cambridge resident Joe Hansis. "I didn't expect it to be so extensive."

At a grand opening on the weekend of January 25, New England Patriot Irving Friar, Celtic Robert Parish and a handful of other sports celebrities signed autographs. A staff member said that the Galleria was mobbed by throngs of fans.

"As rabid as sports fans are," said Hansis, "I think they'll want to spend as much time here as at the sports events themselves."

Cambridge Vice Mayor Edward N. Cyr praised the project as a recessionary boost for the one-year-old mammoth mall.

"It's good for the Galleria," said Cyr. "It's very tough to open such a galleria in this economy."

It's also very tough to fund a $3 million museum in a recession, according to museum officials.

Johnson said, "It's like building a plane while flying it at 8000 feet."

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