'Simply said, a legend': CMU softball coach Margo Jonker quietly retires after 40 years

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Margo Jonker coached Central Michigan softball for 40 years.

Any other day, it would've been big, big news in the state of Michigan.

But Central Michigan softball coaching legend Margo Jonker happened to pick Monday to announce her retirement after 40 years on the job — the news coming just as the John Beilein-to-the-NBA bombshell was blowing up the Internet.

Then again, it's probably just as Jonker would've wanted it, as a media-shy coach who never was comfortable in the spotlight, and who very much prefers to let her very impressive record speak for herself.

Really, it's amazing she allowed Central Michigan to name its softball complex after her during the 2008 season.

"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 statement from the university.  "It is never easy to leave something you love but I am so thankful to have so many amazing memories. Everything accomplished during my time here is because of the young women who have come through this program and one of the things I still enjoy most is when they come back, and I can see what outstanding people they have become.

"While I will miss the day-to-day coaching, I will always love this sport and the great people who are in it."

Jonker didn't respond to messages from The Detroit News, and there was no scheduled farewell news conference.

Jonker, 65, has been the head coach at Central Michigan for practically the program's entirety, taking over in 1980 from Marion Russell, the inaugural coach in 1979.

Jonker built a record of 1,268-808-7, the win total ranking ninth-most among coaches in Division I. She made 13 NCAA Tournaments, on the strength of 10 Mid-American Conference tournament championships and 10 regular-season titles.

In 1987, the Chippewas made the College World Series.

Her departure leaves quite the void for athletic director Michael Alford, who is charged with making yet another big hire in just two years on the job. Alford already has made hirings in football and baseball, and also has to find a new women's gymnastics coach.

"Simply said, Margo Jonker is a legend in the sport of softball, in the Mid-American Conference and at Central Michigan University," Alford said. "She has had an amazing impact on hundreds of student-athletes, making sure that their success was always the top priority. Her success on the field is unmatched but even greater is the fact that nearly every young woman that went through her program graduated and went on to success in their adult lives. Our entire department will miss her immensely and I hope she stays connected to our program because she will always be a tremendous resource."

Alford said a national search for Jonker's successor will begin immediately

A native of Holland, Mich., Jonker arrived at Central in 1979 and also was an assistant volleyball coach. She earned a master's from Central in 1981. She earned her bachelor's from Grand Valley State, where she was female athlete of the year in 1976.

Jonker stayed at Grand Valley State to be the pitching coach from 1977-79 while also the softball coach at West Ottawa High School in 1978-79 and the volleyball coach at Hope College from 1976-78.

But it was at Central Michigan where she became a legend, particularly in softball circles, where her friendships run from coast to coast.

She was the MAC coach of the year 10 times and a regional coach of the year three times, and is a member of five Halls of Fame — including the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. She's joined in that Hall of Fame by peers Carol Hutchins of Michigan and Jacquie Joseph at Michigan State.

At Central Michigan, Jonker coached eight All-Americans and seven MAC players of the year, three MAC pitchers of the year, and six MAC freshmen of the year. She coached 67 academic All-MAC players.

Her 521 MAC victories are most-ever, 252 more than second place, and during her time at Central, the MAC has seen 70 other head softball coaches. Only once did Central miss the MAC tournament in her tenure.

Outside of Central, Jonker was an an assistant coach for the 2000 gold medal-winning team at the Sydney Olympics, and the 1998 gold medal-winning team at the World Championships in Japan.

Her retirement is effective June 30. On her most-recent contract available to The News, Jonker was paid an annual salary of $118,578 plus bonuses.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984