Chippewa Coach Heading To The Olympics

Updated 6/16/2000

CMU Sports Information

Margo Jonker has faithfully worn the Maroon and Gold of Central Michigan University for the past 21 years. This summer, however, CMU's softball coach will trade those colors in for a new set ... the Red, White and Blue.

Jonker is an assistant coach for USA Softball's Olympic team that will compete in Syndey, Australia, September 15 to October 1. Aside from taking CMU to a national championship title herself, Jonker cites this as one of the top accomplishments she could ever have in the game of softball.

"Going to the Olympics as a player or a coach is the highlight of any career," she said. "Representing your country is as good as it gets in the world of athletics.

"My initial reaction was one of being honored to be able to be a part of the Olympic experience representing this great country in the game I totally enjoy and have spent my life with. I was a little awestruck that I was given this opportunity and extremely thankful to all that made it possible.

"There are so many people who have contributed to my coaching career. It goes back to my father who first took me to games and played catch with me, to my friends who have been there for me, to my players who have made CMU the success we are, to my assistants and colleagues who have been there for me and to all the support of the people around CMU softball who have helped out in so many ways."

Jonker applied for the position after serving as a coach in the USA Softball program for several years. She was also an assistant at the World Championships in 1998 and the Superball Tournament in 1997. Her responsibilities for this year's Olympic team include coaching first base, working with the outfielders and monitoring the strength and conditioning program.

While coaching some of the world's top players such as Lisa Fernandez, Dot Richardson, Sheila Douty and Michele Smith is a change of pace for Jonker, she says there's a lot of similarities to her job at CMU.

"When it came to working with the players, I thought it would be different than working with CMU players because the Olympic players were so accomplished and skilled," Jonker said. "But even with the Olympians' confidence, they have many of the same needs as our players. They do little things wrong and they need to be reminded to use proper technique. They, too, need to know coaches are there for them and they need positive reinforcement just like any other athlete."

Finding the right cure for the little problems took a little research by Jonker. She didn't need to dig into coaching books to find answers, though, she just needed to get to know her players better.

"I found that it was important that I get to know each player on the Olympic team," she said. "The players each have different styles that they have been successful with and knowing each person's style allows me to know what each person needs, rather than what a textbook fix would be for their problems."

Jonker says she won't have a problem with the transition from being a head coach to an assistant. In fact, she says, it has its advantages. "Being an assistant I won't have the pressure of being the head coach so that should allow me to enjoy the experience a little more," she said with a smile.

And the experience Jonker looks forward to most is the actual competition in Sydney.

"I'm looking forward to the games themselves," she said. "I can't wait to actually get into the Olympic arena and that competitive atmosphere. The possibility of being in the gold medal game and winning the gold is something I look forward to."

The Americans are the favorites to repeat with the gold, but USA will face tough competition from Australia and Japan. Being a part of one of the best softball teams ever assembled does bring some notoriety to Jonker.

"It's amazing to see how many kids and adults come up to you and want your autograph and are willing to stand in line for long periods of time just to get your signature," she said. "The fans usually try to get their favorites but they also want all the players and coaches. Sometimes we actually have to try to avoid the crowds at games and appearances and part of my job is to move the team along in those situations. Sometimes the fans don't understand, though, and feelings are hurt."

Jonker's Olympic experience will also bring some national attention to Central Michigan University, the Chippewa Athletics Department and the Mid-American Conference. Jonker and Team USA are currently touring the country until the games as part of its "Central Park to Sydney 2000" tour.

"Everywhere we go, I will be announced as Margo Jonker from Central Michigan University," she said. "Many of the games during the tour and the Olympics will be televised so that should give CMU some more exposure. CMU isn't mentioned much on television on a national level outside of when Dan Majerle is mentioned. I see the coverage of the games benefiting the university as a whole, the athletics department and the CMU softball program itself."

Jonker's touring with the USA Softball program in the past has aided the CMU program in terms of recruiting.

"In the past summers I have seen some of the top players in the nation at events like the Junior World Championships," she said. "A lot of other people have seen me at these events and they are now familiar with my name and the university."

While on the road with the national team, Margo fulfills her CMU head coaching duties by using the latest technology to keep in contact with her assistant coaches and the athletics department personnel.

"It is a much easier task to be able to keep up with my CMU responsibilities throughout this adventure because of today's technology," she said. "I am on e-mail daily checking with my assistants, the administration, the support staff and my players. I e-mail recruits, I write notes to recruits and call recruits from the road. I have my cell phone with me at all times.

"I feel it is important that I keep track of what is going on at Central on a daily basis. Since a lot of correspondence today is done by e-mail or the phone it has allowed me to stay in touch with CMU even though it isn't face to face contact. A lot of business people do their business long distance and this is no different."

Jonker realizes that this adventure would not be possible if it weren't for CMU allowing her to fulfill both roles.

"I am grateful to the administration at Central for allowing me this experience," she said. "I am hopeful this will benefit the entire athletics department and indeed the university and conference. I am appreciative of the support staff at CMU that they are willing to do correspondence through e-mail. Many people have been supportive and have helped me so I could have this opportunity. They have been awesome. To all of them I would like to say Thank you.'"

Although Olympic coaches do not receive medals, Jonker hopes her excursion comes to an official end at a gold medal ceremony with the Star Spangled Banner being played. She's heard the anthem many times during her numerous years as a player and coach, but this time it will be special.

"That will be emotional," she said. "In fact, it has already been emotional as I have wondered what it will be like during the national anthems at CMU games this past season. I'm from a family that is patriotic so tradition and loyalty are two things I have a lot of. I also have a lot of pride in my country."