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The original soccer mom: Gwen Judkins relishes her seat in the bleachers

Published: Sunday, May 12 2013 10:54 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — When Gwen Judkins signed her children up for just about any and every athletic competition available, she didn’t do it because she saw them as future superstars.

Decades before the term soccer mom was coined, Judkins made sure her eight children were able to participate in whatever activity interested them simply because it brought them joy.

“I just saw they had fun playing,” said the 78-year-old Salt Lake woman. “They just enjoyed being together. That was a lot of it, the friendship.”

That decision, she said, made her a better mom.

Her children — four boys and four girls — believe her love of sports offered them better opportunities.

But it wasn’t just that she managed to accommodate the activity schedules of eight active children. It was more about how she managed it.

“Both my parents encouraged me, but my mother was the one who got us everywhere,” said her oldest child, BYU head women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins, who, like his youngest brother Jon Judkins, made a career out of sports coaching college basketball. Jon is the head men’s basketball coach at Dixie State University.

Jeff still marvels at what his mother was able to juggle — pointing out that when he was playing at the University of Utah, he had two brothers playing basketball at Highland High, and another playing Bantam basketball for junior high students. Neither of his parents missed any of his college games.

“Tuesday and Friday were high school games,” he said. “We played Thursday and Saturday and Jon (the youngest) played on Monday and Wednesday. My mom has seen more games than anybody.”

Jon said his mother got to know his friends — and the friends of all of his siblings so well that it's often the first question he's asked when he sees old acquaintances.

"The first things out of their mouths is, 'How is Gweny doing?'" said Jon Judkins. "She knew every one of our friends, and it was kind of fun."

Grandma Gwen, as she’s now known, wasn’t just a chauffeur or a cheerleader. She found a way to connect to the entire team while giving her own children something meaningful.

“Those bleachers, I felt like I lived there,” she said laughing. “I always kept score. When they quit playing ball, I gave them the scorebooks. … I thoroughly enjoyed knowing the players.”

She said keeping stats during baseball and basketball games helped her get to know all of the players and their contributions to the team.

She became a reliable source of information — even for players on opposing teams, who would often ask her for their stats after games.

“One of the biggest things my mom did, she kept stats in the game because she got nervous,” Jeff said. “Instead of sitting there worrying about everything, she kept stats. She kept rebounds, assists, shots, fouls, sometimes she was more accurate than the (official) scorekeepers.” She did not keep score so she could boast about her boys.

“My mom was never into bragging,” said Jeff. “She was very low key. Both her and my dad used to tell us, ‘You never have to tell anybody you’re good; they’ll know you’re good.’ That stuck with me.”

In fact, Jeff goes so far as to guess his mother really never cared about spectacular performances.

“She never did say, ‘Oh, you scored 25 points!’ ” said Jeff. “What mattered is that her team won and that everybody felt like they were part of it.”

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