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Former players react to Margo Jonker's retirement, thankful for her guidance

Mar. 25 at Margo Jonker Stadium. Josh Barnhart | Staff Photographer

The announcement came May 13. 

Margo Jonker threw in the towel, retiring as coach of the Central Michigan softball team after 40 seasons with the program.

She ended her career ranked ninth in Division I for wins after compiling a 1,268-808-7 record at the helm of the Chippewas. Following a 22-28-1 season in 2019, the longtime coach decided to step aside, and she does so leaving big, proverbial shoes to fill. 

Jonker made the NCAA Tournament 13 times, won the Mid-American Conference Tournament and regular season crown 10 times each. She guided CMU to the NCAA Women's College World Series once in 1987.

"It has been an amazing 40 seasons and I will really miss working with these fantastic student-athletes, but it is time for me to step aside and let someone else be the gatekeeper for this program," Jonker said in a press release. "It is never easy to leave something you love but I am so thankful to have so many amazing memories."

Throughout her career, Jonker has built the program from the ground up. She joined the athletic department in 1979, the team's first season, before coaching the following season. 

She served as an assistant coach on the CMU volleyball team when she arrived, in addition to her softball duties. Jonker earned her master's in athletic administration from CMU in 1981. 

The accolades that Jonker has acquired in her decorated career seem to be endless. 

Jonker is enshrined in five different halls of fame: National Fastpitch Coaches Association (2003), Grand Valley State University (1990), Michigan Amateur Softball (2000), West Ottawa High School (2001) and Metro Detroit Amateur Softball Association (2014). 

She even served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Softball team that took the gold medal in the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia. 

Even with all of the accolades, Jonker's biggest impact has been providing support to her players. 

Senior pitcher Rachel Knapp pitches the ball on March 28 at Margo Jonker Stadium.

Rachael Knapp pitched for CMU from 2014-17 and ranks third in program history with 68 wins. Knapp currently plays softball professionally for HSB Roef in the Netherlands and owes her entire professional career to Jonker. 

"(Jonker) saw potential in me when I did not," Knapp said. "Central Michigan softball and coach Jonker helped me transform into a better version of myself.

"She is a mentor of not only softball but life in general, she cares tremendously and would do anything for the people around her." 

Knapp alluded to a story that her current team sent an email to Jonker asking for recommendations for a pitcher. 

Jonker, obviously, recommended Knapp. 

"I literally wouldn't be where I am today without (Jonker)," Knapp said. "If she wouldn't have recruited me, I wouldn't have the friends I have today, the degree and I wouldn't be continuing my softball career and traveling in Europe, which has been a dream." 

Knapp also said that there are not enough words to express gratitude for her former coach, saying that Jonker has "given her heart and soul to the program and to each player she has coached." 

Jonker has also made an impact outside of softball, mainly the professional world. 

Outfielder Lacy Tolfree hits the ball against Bowling Green on March 25 at Margo Jonker Stadium.

Lacy Tolfree played left field for the Chippewas from 2015-17 and graduated in 2018. She ranks ninth in career stolen bases with – swiping 52-of-64 attempts. 

Currently, Tolfree is an Evening Program Supervisor at Hartley Outdoor Education Center in her hometown of Saginaw. She also coaches a 13U softball team in Saginaw. 

Tolfree said that playing for Jonker has cast a wide area of opportunity in the professional world. 

"She has opened a lot of doors for me because people know her in all parts of Michigan," Tolfree said. "I've been asked constantly if she still coaches, and it's hard to say, 'not anymore.'" 

Jonker has been supportive of all of her players, and Tolfree said that support runs past softball or work and into family and life choices. 

Tolfree recalls her surgery to repair her rotator cuff and a torn labrum. She said she had the full support of Jonker through the entire process.

It wasn't the first nor the last time Jonker supported one of her own. That's just how she operates.

"(Jonker) is always there for her players on and off the field," Tolfree said. "She is honestly one of the best coaches I have ever played for.

"I will always treasure every minute I had on the field playing for her."