Missouri legislators gathered in Jefferson City for the start of another political session and as it has since 1953, the session got started with the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday. Over the last several years, the guest speakers have ranged from U.S. Representative Ike Skelton, Senator Jean Carnahan, and former Governor, U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
However, the last two years, prominent sports figures have taken center stage as the guest speaker. Last year Cardinals’ starting pitcher Adam Wainwright attended the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast and this year the guest of honor was recently retired football coach of Northwest Missouri State, Mel Tjeerdsma.
Tjeerdsma was a four-time national coach of the year honoree, and in his 17 seasons at Northwest Missouri State, led the Bearcats to three national championships. With 31 wins in 13 playoff appearances, he has the most postseason wins in Division II history. He was recently inducted into the Division II football hall of fame.
Tjeerdsma’s message to the legislators and audience was more faith than football. He mentioned how he never prayed for a win, (although, he admitted there were times he’d pray for a turnover at a key moment in a game now and then, which brought laughs from the crowd.) He did touch upon how he let his faith guide him, whether it was through a rough patch in a season or on a career move, he’s always believed that through prayer, hard work and a supporting family, things will always work out.
Tjeerdsma shared the story of how he interviewed for the Division I coaching job at the University of Texas-San Antonio prior to the 2009 season. He loved the city of San Antonio and he and his wife Carol always made it a point to visit the city when spending time with one of his three daughters and her family in Texas. He felt this was his destiny, becoming a head coach for a D-I program, in a city he fell in love with and the opportunity to live closer to family. While Tjeerdsma was one of three finalists for the job, he didn’t get the job and returned to Northwest Missouri State for his 16th season. He recalled that as his team held up the national championship trophy later that year he realized that staying in Missouri was his destiny.
Tjeerdsma also said faith does not always have to be tied the end result, but also the journey of getting there and despite the fact that his team lost in the semifinals to the eventual national champion this year, he said the journey of what his players went through and sacrificed for the good of the team is what he’ll remember most of his final year.
Tjeerdsma plans to take some time off before he and his wife move to Texas this spring where he says he won’t be retired for long. He says he’s too active and feels too good to just sit around. While he doesn’t know what his future holds, he knows through his faith things will work out just fine.
The Prayer Breakfast is designed as an inter-faith event for all leaders and citizens of the state. The forum also brings together select Missouri college juniors for a three-day study of faith and leadership where students learn the role faith has played in the lives of business executives, government officials and even sports figures.