Oct. 9, 2010
Tjeerdsma, Tatum reunite in Joplin
By David Boyce
When Northwest Missouri State plays at Missouri Southern 6 p.m. Saturday, coach Mel Tjeerdsma will have complete control over his emotions.
It will be the fifth time Tjeerdsma coaches against Bart Tatum.
"The first year was really tough with Bart," Tjeerdsma said. "We've gotten through all that. For the most part it is another ball game for us.
"It's going to be a tough game for us. They just got beat on a last second field goal. It's going to be a good test for us. I'm sure of that."
The fact that Tjeerdsma knew exactly how Missouri Southern lost 24-21 to Pittsburg State in less than 30 minutes after the Bearcats' astounding 42-0 drubbing of rival Missouri Western indicates that he keeps pretty close tab on Tatum.
Of course, Tjeerdsma is pretty clued in on how all the teams in the MIAA are doing.
You don't win 40 straight conference games and counting by being oblivious to the MIAA football landscape.
Still, Tjeerdsma develops a special bond with his players and assistant coaches. He takes pride when they climb the coaching ranks.
"It just makes you feel good," he said. "We got so many guys who are coaching in so many places. That's one of the most satisfying things that I do.
"Guys who are coaching in high school call, not so much about what they are doing, but keeping in touch, sharing the fact that we care about each other and we are family and that's pretty neat."
Obviously, Tjeerdsma wants to see them have success. It becomes a little dicey when those coaches stay in the MIAA.
With Jim Svoboda becoming the head coach at Central Missouri, Tjeerdsma is now facing two coaches who were once his offensive coordinator at Northwest.
"It is not easy," Tjeerdsma said. "I don't know what it is going to be like going against Jim. I will worry about that when we get there. I know it is not going to be easy."
The Northwest coaching staff, like any football staff that has had a lot of success, is a tight-knit group. They spend countless hours studying film, coming up with a game plan and trying to reach the top of NCAA Division II.
During the course of most seasons they experience the exhilaration of victory, the pain of seeing players get hurt and the tough losses.
They share family tidbits with each other because they are family.
The coaches at Northwest have a lot to smile about these days. After dropping the season-opener, the Bearcats have won their first three games in the MIAA and are 3-1.
Meanwhile, Missouri Southern has lost its first three conference games after a 2-0 start. Two of the losses were by a field goal.
A part of Tjeerdsma has to feel some of the sting of those losses. Tjeerdsma coached Tatum for four seasons at Austin College. Tatum also spent one season as a graduate assistant for Tjeerdsma at Austin College.
They were reunited when Tjeerdsma took over Northwest in 1994. Tatum spent 12 years on staff before becoming the head coach at Missouri Southern.
There's a lot of history between the two coaches.
But when the ball is kicked at 6 p.m. Saturday, those memories will evaporate for three hours.
Northwest defensive coordinator Scott Bostwick needed only a few words to sum it up.
"You respect them, but when the game starts it is on," Bostwick said.
"I wish them all the luck when they play anybody else. We all spent a lot of time together. We are proud of each other. It's certainly not fun, especially if it goes the other way sometime."
Once the game is over it is back to being family. But during the season the contact is limited. The coaches are concerned with helping their team win.
"With Bart and Jim in our conference I don't hear from them a lot," Tjeerdsma said. "Jim and I text quite a bit but that will slow down in the next couple of weeks. Bart, we talk a little bit. I'm proud of both of those guys. I'm proud of all of our guys."
A part of Tjeerdsma is happy for Svoboda, who has Central Missouri off to a good start. The Mules are 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the MIAA, a half game ahead of Northwest.
The Bearcats will face Central Missouri Nov. 6 in what could be a MIAA showdown for first place.
Tjeerdsma coached against Svoboda before when Tjeerdsma was at Austin College and Svoboda was the head coach at Nebraska Wesleyan.
"I'm 0-2 against Svboda and one of those he beat us because he had 12 guys on the field and the officials didn't call it. I'm never going to let him forget that," Tjeerdsma said.
The rest of this story will be revealed on Nov. 6.
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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