Big Rapids-- Central Michigan University has had no shortage of impressive female coaches. With coaches like Mary Bottaro, Marcy Weston, and Sue Guevara trailblazing the way for women in their prospective sports. Working with and around coaches like those mentioned, it’s no surprise that CMU softball’s Margo Jonker was no different.
“Mary Bottaro had done things internationally, as well as they finished in the top nationally. So that was in field hockey. So there’s something I kind of lean towards because I wanted to have our teams do that kind of thing. I coached with Marcy. I was her assistant coach in volleyball for a couple of years. I didn’t say I was good at it. I said I did it”, Jonker laughed. “It was part of my graduate assistantship type thing. And, you know, Sue came back later, and I knew Sue from way back, she was coach softball and Saginaw Valley.”
Coach Jonker did go on to mirror those before her’s winning ways: leading the Chips’ to the NCAA Tournament 13 times, a record 10 MAC Tournament championships and 10 MAC regular-season titles. Jonker was also able to take her success internationally as she coached the 2000 USA Olympic gold medal team.
“It was an amazing experience traveling the country beforehand, doing the world games before that, when we won the gold in Japan, going to Japan, I never expected to go to Japan. I always dreamed of going to Australia. So that was pretty cool that the Olympics were in Australia when I went with them, but to be with the top players in the world and won the Gold in both. So, you’re with the top players in the world, in the game that you love is just an amazing experience,” she recalled.
But Jonker admits through all of her success and exciting travel experience, not every day felt like winning the gold.
Her coaching career started in 1977, as a pitching coach for Grand Valley State University. Just five years after Title IX was passed.
“I’m not really sure the athletic directors back then or maybe even today would really if there was honestly behind closed door in their locker room tell you that they really wanted to have all these women’s sports. So they don’t have a choice. Therefore, that’s what Title Nine did. And oh, when I played at Grand Valley, we were very good. Michigan State won the state tournament and won the national championship. Thank you very much. We came in second to them in the state, doesn’t bother me at all. Anyway, so we were good, but we wore blue jeans as uniforms, and a T shirt type thing. So the quality of the uniforms is so much better. There’s there’s so many things that are better now. And a lot of it had to do with Title Nine and the opportunities for girls to be able to participate,” she said.
Fast-forward thirty-one years, to 2008, much had changed for the game of softball. But the sport still wasn’t being funded the way that men’s sports were. At the time, CMU softball was having to fundraise about $60,000 a year to help with travel, along with other necessary costs for the program. To help combat that- was the naming of Margo Jonker Stadium.
“They figured the way to get the alumni to donate money was to name the field. So that’s pretty much why it got named. And the fact that the alumni would be that supportive, and friends would be that supportive to come up with the money was obviously impressive and meant a lot. And to have the field named is actually great. Although when we didn’t play well. And we lost sometimes it was like, ‘This is embarrassing! The field is named after me and I can’t even win, oh my gosh.’ So you know, but overall, the honor is amazing,” Jonker said.
But truly, the team didn’t lose THAT much as Jonker compiled a sterling 1,246-780-6 record at CMU, and 34 winning seasons.
But Jonker gives all of the winning up to her players, noting that she was lucky to walk into a team with All-American pitcher Linda Padgett, and have outfielders like CMU Hall of Famers Lynn Putnam, and daughter of Detroit Tigers great, Mickey Stanley, Pam, who earned All-American honors three times.
“There’s no doubt it’s the reason we were good is because of the players that I was fortunate to have here,” the former Chippewas HC said.
Though she’s retired, she hasn’t quite stopped being around the game, but she’s picked up some new ones, too.
“I watched CMU play, watched Northwood, watched Michigan play. Now I’m watching Toledo. I was watching Duke because of where my assistants went. So I’ve kind of traveled all over watching games. And then I picked up this other little game. It’s an easy game called golf... But anyway, so I’m starting to play that game and then playing a little pickleball.”