‘How can you replace a mom?’ Desert Hills soccer rallies behind freshman player and his family

ST. GEORGE — It was a night to remember for seniors taking the field at Desert Hills’ last home game of the season, but, as planned by players and coaches, the spotlight shone brightest on one of the team’s youngest players and his family.

Stockton Beckstrom has been supported by his teammates and coaches as they’ve come to understand more about the medical challenges facing his mother, St. George, Utah, April 26, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Fourteen-year-old Stockton Beckstrom appeared to be trying to settle his nerves while preparing to start his first game on the varsity squad. Between warm-ups, he glanced toward the Thunder stands: hoping to catch the eye of a proud mother who might not live to see him play varsity again.

Rachael Beckstrom is in the late stages of cervical cancer. When the coaches at Desert Hills found out about her prognosis, they invited the players to make a special effort to recognize their young teammate and show love to his family.

“We’ve really come together as a team especially to support Stockton,” said senior Easton Chinn. “I think it’s just really important to remember that there’s more than just soccer in life. We’re all brothers and we’re all one team.”

On April 21, the entire soccer program – freshmen, junior varsity, varsity and coaching staff – surprised the Beckstrom family at their home with a signed ball and a special invitation to Tuesday’s game against Hurricane.

At the game, the Beckstroms were guests of honor. Every Thunder player wore teal armbands (the color of cervical cancer awareness), and the team announced they were dedicating the remainder of their season to Rachael Beckstrom just before kickoff.

Rachael Beckstrom, surrounded by family and friends, attended Desert Hills’ senior night soccer game to see her son play varsity, St. George, Utah, April 26, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Sitting in front of the press box beside her husband, sister and son, the Beckstrom mom smiled and cheered as she saw her oldest child walk on the pitch. Playing on the varsity team was one of her son’s dreams, and she got to see him realize it sooner than ever imagined.

Just being up and about and traveling to see her son play took tremendous effort, but she said it was all worth it to cheer him on.

“It’s been hard with chemo, and there was a time when we didn’t know if I’d get to see any of his high school games,” she said. “And then for the team to be so kind to let him play on the varsity team was really neat.”

Stockton Beckstrom got the opening touch at kickoff and played in his usual position as attacking midfielder. In a game that Desert Hills would go on to win 4-2, he logged 35 minutes while supporting his older teammates with passing, defense and a couple shots on goal.

Prior to the game, he told St. George News what it all meant to him.

“I think it’s really cool that they gave me the opportunity to do this,” he said. “They’ve been really nice to me in terms of helping me get better, and they’ve also been kind about the situation that I’m in. And it makes me happy that she (Mom) is coming out to watch me play.”

Stockton Beckstrom (right foreground) stands at the front of the line of starting players at the Desert Hills vs. Hurricane match, St. George, Utah, April 26, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

His biggest contribution was an expertly-placed free kick that was scored by a header from teammate Jaxson Resendez, earning Beckstrom an assist and the acknowledgement of coaches and players.

“He was awesome,” said assistant coach Cody Nelson. “(It) was the most confidence I’ve seen in him all season.”

Along with coaches, Steven Beckstrom, Stockton’s father and Rachael’s husband, remarked on the character and strength he saw in his son and wife.

“He’s the rock of all our children, and probably of our whole family,” the father said. “He holds us all together … and she’s the biggest fighter that I know of in my life. She’s gone through treatments, surgeries, tubes – different things that go with cancer. Through it all she’s just persevered and put a smile on her face as many times as she can.”

Head coach Benji Nelson said Stockton Beckstrom’s contributions went beyond his play on Tuesday night or his previous games playing junior varsity. The freshman has always been a positive role model to his peers and an inspiration to the coaching staff, he said.

The Nelson brothers are no strangers to the toll that cancer exacts from families. Their father died from cancer two years ago, and Cody Nelson’s wife beat breast cancer in the past few years. In addition, another assistant coach lost both of his parents to cancer.

It all hit home, then, when they saw their young player and his family struggling with the terminal illness of a parent.

“How can you replace a mom?” Benji Nelson said. “That’s the person that brings us into this world and gives us the love and support that we all need throughout our lives. (So) tonight’s about Stockton and his family and trying to support them. That’s our focus.”

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