COLUMBIA — The applause started slowly, then spread through the rows of seats as more members of the black-and-gold-clad crowd tilted back their heads to focus on the four-sided television suspended above Norm Stewart Court. By now everyone was clapping for the woman with perfectly curled white hair. Some fans even stood to their feet. Lydia Serck was the star of the show.
During a timeout with just less than 12 minutes left in the first half of the Missouri men's basketball team's 89-73 victory over Colorado on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, Missouri fans applauded 99-year old Serck for her longtime dedication as a Missouri basketball fan.
When she was introduced, she smiled and held the arm of Courtney Orscheln, her great-granddaughter, who was sitting next to her. Orscheln, a medical student at MU, and other members of her family worked with Missouri assistant coach Matt Zimmerman to arrange Serck's big night.
Orscheln and Zimmerman had known one another through participating in various fundraisers. One day, the topic turned to Orscheln’s great-grandmother, the faithful Missouri fan from Boonville who never misses a game.
“She watches every game at home. She still lives by herself. My dad comes over to her house and sets the TV up to the right channel for every game, or if it’s on the radio station. We just had to get her to a game. She’s never been to this arena, and she hasn’t been to a game in a really long time,” Orscheln said.
In fact, it had been 10 years since Serck had been to a game in person. Zimmerman was happy to change that.
“When he found out how long she had been a fan, he really went all out,” Orscheln said.
When the family informed Serck about her tickets to the game, she couldn’t stop laughing.
“Then she was glad she had her hair done,” Orscheln said.
The tickets were for seats close to the court, a perfect spot for Serck to watch her favorite team play the sport she loves.
Before she retired from teaching, she used to play with her students outside her one-room schoolhouse in Nebraska. Even then, she was a Missouri fan. She was never a student at MU, but she made sure her family grew up as Tigers fans as well.
“There was no choice,” Blake Green, Serck’s great-grandson, said.
The persistence paid off.
"My dad and my uncle, her grandsons, went to Mizzou, and her great-grandchildren all went to Mizzou," Orscheln said.
During halftime, Serck's encore occurred. Her image appeared again on the screen, this time during a replay of Missouri's first-half highlights.
"Ohhhh, no" Serck said, drawing out the oh-sound as she brought her hands to her face.
It wasn't that she didn't enjoy the attention; it's just that she was more interested in the game itself.
"The last time I was here, Mizzou won. I hope they win today, too," she said.
She answers every question the same way, short and honest.
Yes, she enjoyed the experience. No, she had never been on a big screen like that before.
She doesn't have a favorite player because she likes them all.
She doesn't have a favorite coach, but she especially likes Mike Anderson.
How long has she been a fan? As long as she can remember.
A perfectly stenciled sign sat in her lap, resting on her yellow Missouri sweatshirt. The black, bold letters spelled out:
“ALL I WANT FOR MY 100th B-DAY IS AN MU FINAL FOUR!"
While Serck's birthday isn’t until June 30, the wish isn’t likely to change. When asked about how realistic Missouri’s chances of making it to the Final Four, her honesty didn't stray.
“I don’t know. I’d like them to,” Serck said.
“She’s a realist,” her great-grandson said. “That’s how you make it to 99.”