How the Mormon mission age change is affecting female college athletes

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 8:00 a.m. MDT

In her own words, Jessica Chatman “had no desire to serve a mission.”

Going into her junior year of high school, she had accepted a scholarship to play basketball at BYU. Her life revolved around preparing for college and playing the game she loved.

Then she grudgingly attended a missionary preparation class, and a powerful spiritual experience sparked a dramatic change of heart.

“The car ride home was definitely a wave of emotions,” Chatman said in an email. “I was actually acting out how I was going to tell my parents. I literally did a complete 180 in that mission prep class — from not having a desire to serve a mission to knowing that a mission was what God had in store for me.”

Chatman is one example of numerous Latter-day Saint women who are preparing to serve 18-month missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 19. At the same time, Chatman’s decision to give up her scholarship illustrates a new variable in college sports among female Mormon athletes since President Thomas S. Monson announced new minimum age requirements for missionaries in October 2012. Female athletes can now serve two years earlier, whereas before many were near the end of their college eligibility when they turned 21.

As a result, some coaches have been scrambling to plug holes in rosters.

“It’s going to be an adjustment, more than I thought,” Jeff Judkins, BYU’s women’s basketball coach, said of the new ripple effect. “When I first heard about it (the mission age-change announcement), I thought these girls won’t want to go; they have basketball or an athletic career. But the Spirit touches these young ladies pretty fast, so we are going to have to deal with it.”

Chatman’s story

Jessica Chatman comes from a basketball family. She is the daughter of former BYU great Jeff Chatman and the sister of Jordan Chatman, who has also committed to play hoops for BYU when he returns from his mission in Taiwan in April 2014.

Jessica, a 6-foot wing player from Union High in Vancouver, Wash., is so talented that BYU offered her a scholarship after her sophomore season.

So when her stake president, Dean Barrus, asked all the Laurels to attend a mission preparation class, she went out of sense of duty, nothing more.

“I really had no desire to serve a mission,” Jessica said. “My focus was on basketball and playing at BYU.”

The room was hot and packed with people. She wanted to leave. But as the speaker related a recent missionary experience in Africa, something happened to Chatman. While she listened, a distinct image of her sitting on a couch, teaching the gospel, came into her head.

She immediately pushed it away.

“No, I don’t even want to go on a mission. I’m only here because I have to be here,” she told herself. “Then this voice told me, ‘No, you’re going to serve a mission.’”

An internal battle ensued as Chatman rationalized a list of excuses why she couldn’t go. It would ruin her plan to be at BYU with her brother. She looked forward to the fun college life. She had worked hard to earn a scholarship. Missions are hard. Again, the impression came to her mind.

“No, you are going to serve a mission."

Suddenly she felt selfish.

“Isn’t the point of life to serve God, to follow his commandments and promptings?” she said. “The Lord has done so much for me and all he’s asking for is a year and a half.”

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