MARSHALL – Kari (Searles) Jolink has heard many cheers while standing on the Marshall High School basketball court, but none likely meant as much to her as the ovation she received Friday night.
Jolink, a 2001 Marshall High School graduate and a teacher at Marshall Middle School, was diagnosed with non-small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer in May of 2015. Between the girls and boys varsity games, the Marshall girls basketball team presented a $2,500 check to the American Cancer Society in honor of Jolink – who is considered one of the best players in program history.
“All together this is a very special night just because this community has raised me from a little kid,” Jolink said. “I was Marshall basketball. It is who I was. And to have them come back out and support me this way – in a different way that I needed them in life (means a lot).”
While at Marshall High School, Jolink was a true standout on and off the basketball court. She averaged 18 points per game during an All-State senior season and set school records for free throw percentage and most baskets made in a game (14). She helped the Redhawks to three regional finals appearances. She continued her playing career at Ferris State University where she was a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Academic Team. She later transferred to Olivet College, where she also played basketball.
“She was probably the first kid I ever had that played with so much grit on the court that she was the kid that no one on the other team liked,” said Marshall girls basketball coach Sal Konkle. “But off the court, she was the kindest young lady, most pleasant and most polite, great student. She was just that kind of player and she liked to win – and she did win a lot.”
After college, Jolink returned to Marshall and began teaching and coaching. At the time, Konkle was unable to run her summer basketball camp as she was helping her son Mitch survive his own fight with cancer.
“When Sal’s son was diagnosed – I was the person she went to to run her summer basketball camp,” Jolink said. “While Mitch was going through everything, Sal had nothing to worry about and I ran camp. Now it’s that reverse role where I need that same support and she’s there for me. It really has come full-circle.”
Following the ceremony, an emotional Konkle spoke of Jolink’s contributions to the students of Marshall Public Schools.
“To have her here and for us to be able to represent her and dedicate that check in her name… means a tremendous amount to us,” Konkle said. “She’s one of the best role models the kids have here in Marshall… She’s a teacher, she’s a coach, she’s a mom, she’s a wife and she’s just an outstanding individual and role model. So for her to be here for the girls and the girls to be a part of her life is just a tremendous thing.”
Jolink wore a sweatshirt at the game that had the words ‘Fight Cancer’ – the letters ‘I’ and ‘Can’ highlighted. Those closest to her are not surprised she’s followed that mantra.
“She’s a go-getter. She is fighting as hard as she can,” said Joel Jolink, Kari’s husband. “She’s always been competitive and that’s one of the things that brought us together – just playing little board games and being competitive all the time. Her taking this on… it’s her being competitive. We’ve been dealt this hand and we’ve got to do what we can about it.”
Kari Jolink said her fighting attitude was ingrained in her while taking the hardwood for Marshall.
“There’s so many times that I can remember you are down and you’re not going to lose,” she said. “I vividly remember my senior year against Battle Creek Central, it was overtime and we were not going to lose. Sal put the ball in my hands, even though I hadn’t been having a great game. It was like, ‘I want you to finish this.’ Absolutely the not giving up (attitude) – we’re down but we’re not going to lose, I’m not going to lose this. The team part of it, I know that I can not let my team down. It’s not an individual thing. If it was just me, it would be easy to give up. But it’s not just me, there’s a lot of people.”
Jolink has documented her battle with cancer through journal entries on the website CaringBridge.org. There, she gives updates on her health while also providing an outlet for others to lend their support.
“It’s really hard to stay positive, but we’ve got to keep thinking that there is something else out there,” Jolink said. “That’s what the American Cancer Society is for. Because I’m on my fourth pill already, and I know there is something next and I have to believe there is something next. Because if I didn’t, there would be any reason to keep trying. There’s always going to be a tomorrow, there’s going to be something next.”
To donate to the American Cancer Society, visit donate.cancer.org, call 1-800-227-2345 or mail to: American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22478, Oklahoma City, OK 73123
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley