By Jeff Call, ’94
It’s no coincidence that Laura Swallow Beckstrand was born the same year as the unofficial beginning of football at Brigham Young–in 1896. While the school discontinued the sport two years later (it was established officially in 1922), Mrs. Beckstrand has been going strong since the day she was born.
Today, BYU has one of the strongest athletic programs in the country. And few cheer harder or care more about BYU sports than Mrs. Beckstrand, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother–and a BYU fan who will celebrate her 100th birthday in December.
Because of her devotion, Mrs. Beckstrand was recently named one of the eight runners-up in the Sears DieHard Fan Contest, recognizing the top collegiate sports fans in the United States.
The honor has made her a celebrity of sorts. During the nationally televised Pigskin Classic between BYU and Texas A&M, she was interviewed live on ABC. In addition, she was selected to “Light the Y” at Cougar Stadium before the New Mexico game in September.
After that game, a New Mexico fan requested her autograph. “You’re only the second 100-year-old person I’ve ever met,” he said. He turned to the page in the game program that carried a story about her, and, reluctantly, she signed his program. When other fans recognized her, she continued signing.
To many BYU fans, Mrs. Beckstrand may be a novelty. But to BYU coaches, she has been a recognizable face for 20 years. “She’s one of our most faithful–and knowledgeable–fans,” says women’s volleyball coach and women’s athletic director Elaine Michaelis. “She’s always there on the front row.”
A couple of years ago, the volleyball team honored Mrs. Beckstrand by giving her a Senior Blanket, along with the rest of the graduating players, for being the “most senior” on the team. “We felt that somebody that loyal should be recognized,” Michaelis says. Of course, sitting on the front row brings its share of hazards, too. At one game, a volleyball ricocheted into the stands and broke Mrs. Beckstrand’s glasses. BYU bought her a new pair.
In addition to women’s volleyball, Mrs. Beckstrand loves going to baseball, basketball, and football games in Provo. Through the years, she’s sat through bitter cold and sweltering heat to watch BYU play. On occasion, she’s even attended more than one event in a single day. Before his death in 1981, her husband, Clifton, went to games with her.
What’s it like to sit next to her? Ask her son Therald, and he laughs heartily. “She’s a rabid fan,” he explains. “She gets on the officials. She’s fun to go with because she lives with every play.”
“She’s happy when we win and unhappy when we lose,” her daughter Thressa says. “And she hates to see the games end. She stays ’til the end, no matter if we’re 40 points ahead or 40 points behind.”
Although her hearing has faltered somewhat, she “has the physical health of a 50-year-old,” Therald says of his mother, who belies her 99 years by neither looking, nor acting, her age.
Mrs. Beckstrand’s acute case of BYU-itis began when she arrived at Brigham Young Academy in 1916 from Meadow, Utah, and she played in the school band. She says she “fell in love” with the school. Unfortunately for her, there were few sporting events at the Academy in those days.
When she’s not attending sporting events, Mrs. Beckstrand keeps busy by making quilts and hot pads for her prolific posterity who–this should come as no surprise–are all big fans themselves. “We all got the sports genes,” Thressa explains. “But probably not the longevity genes.”
That’s okay. After all, when it comes to longevity, not even BYU’s football program can match Laura Swallow Beckstrand.
Jeff Call is an editor of Cougar Sports Magazine.