Dan Lund, for the Deseret Morning News
Bob Wakefield talks on the radio as his wife, left, stands ready to help people find seats in the Smith Fieldhouse at a women's volleyball match. The Wakefields are "sports missionaries" for the BYU athletic department.

PROVO — One reason football coach LaVell Edwards retired after 29 seasons and 257 wins at Brigham Young University was to serve an LDS Church mission with his wife, Patti.

Perhaps it's to fill some of the void left by the legendary coach that the university has asked five retired couples to act as "sports missionaries," supporting the BYU football team and other athletic programs.

While the Edwardses represent their church in New York City, Bill and Elaine Toolson have been running Cougar Haven, a cabin near Midway owned by the athletic department and rented to families for reunions. Bob and Cindy Wakefield help the student-athlete academic center and coordinate a speakers' bureau for players and coaches. Earle and Carolin Larson "wine-and-dine" fans who buy thousand-dollar football tickets in a hospitality tent before games.

Wine-and-dine? It's more like chocolate-and-dine. The tent, in the stadium's northeast parking lot, has flowing chocolate fountains — one with milk chocolate, another with white chocolate.

The volunteers save the department money by working as ushers at volleyball matches. They also bring to bear their experience.

Scott Bergeson, father of former BYU football player Eric Bergeson, is using his professional background while working on a five-year financial master plan for the athletic department. He also is working on a plan for moving the department into a new office building that is nearly complete.

The couples are excited to be involved with Cougar sports.

"We've had several people ask how they could get a 'mission' like this," said Bill Toolson, whose son Andy is a former BYU and NBA basketball player. Andy is an assistant coach to Steve Cleveland with the Cougar basketball team.

The couples fill positions that differ from regular LDS Church missionary service because the "call" comes from BYU President Cecil Samuelson, not from LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley or the church's missionary department. They also don't wear the black badge with white lettering worn by proselyting missionaries.

However, athletic department employees regularly refer to them as missionaries or church service missionaries, and game programs for BYU's first two football games refer to the Toolsons as serving "a church mission in the BYU athletic department."

Officially, they're called "Brigham Young University service representatives," according to the letters they received from Samuelson seeking their service.

Athletic director Val Hale calls them "church service volunteers." He got the idea a couple of years ago when he learned BYU-Hawaii had a similar program.

Don and Elaine Davis work with the women's athletic department. The school has 11 women's teams, and the Davises launched and coordinate what's called the "12th Team," a group of volunteers who help the women's teams.

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The Davises and the Toolsons were asked to serve in the fall 2002 and the Wakefields in early 2003. The Larsons and Bergesons were asked this fall. All are to serve for one year. The Davises extended their service by six months.

For many, this is a second or third mission. The Toolsons, for example, have served in the church's Washington, D.C., visitors center and both the Family History Center and Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

BYU athletic directors have long said the athletic program is a missionary arm of the LDS Church.

"We have a pretty limited staff compared to other major programs," Hale said. "These volunteers are very valuable to what we're doing here."

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com