LANSING | Sports have certainly shaped Dyer resident Jaclene Bonnema's life, and in return, Bonnema's athletic talent helped shape the landscape of Illinois prep sports.
In an era of specialization within sports, the standout athlete at Illiana Christian was a throwback.
The 6-foot-2 recent graduate played and excelled in three sports for the Vikings this past season, just as she had for four years. Bonnema made The Times' all-area teams in volleyball and basketball this season, and battled through a winter foot injury to make a healthy contribution to the softball team's strong finish.
For her all-around play, leadership and contribution as a model student-athlete, Bonnema was named The Times' Illinois Female Athlete of the Year.
"The thing I've learned from playing sports is that you can't always win — and if you don't — you can't make a big deal about it," Bonnema said. "You've just got to play on. Sports have also made me a more humble person, because just like life, things aren't all about you."
Bonnema recently returned from a 10-day mission trip that helped clarify her perspective. She and 18 other peers and adults traveled to Zacapa, a city in eastern Guatemala. There, Bonnema and the group from Crown Point's Pathway Christian Church toiled in the heat and humidity, working six hours a day — every other day — on a hospital construction project.
Other time was spent interacting with the local community, which included operating a vacation Bible school.
"It was a life-changing experience," Bonnema said. "In Guatemala, you see people with smiles on their faces. They have nothing, yet seem so happy."
Bonnema helped enrich the girls sports programs at Illiana Christian for four years, as well. Despite her size, and not because of it, Bonnema found herself to be a de facto leader in the sports she played.
On the volleyball court, Bonnema made The Times' all-area first team as a middle hitter with an area-best 184 blocks and a team-best 241 kills. She led the Vikings to a 25-victory season and a Class 3A sectional title. Bonnema made three all-tournament teams during the season.
"Jaclene hates to lose," Illiana Christian volleyball coach Nikki Van Dyke said. "It's hard for a lefty to play middle. She would have been very good at right side, but we needed her inside and that was fine by her. She was very good at finding the spot on the court to hit her shots, and I'd say nearly half of her shots for points were actually finesse shots."
In basketball, Bonnema made The Times' all-area second team as a center for the Vikings. She averaged 12 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest during her final season.
As was the case with volleyball, Bonnema was all-Metro Conference player and a fixture on all-tournament teams. Next year, the National Honor Society member and perennial high-honor roll student will play at Huntington University in Indiana on a combined athletic and academic scholarship.
"Basketball is my favorite sport, and when I visited Huntington, as soon as I walked on campus, I knew that is where I wanted to go," Bonnema said.
Bonnema had to play through a pair of injuries during her high school career. As a junior, she injured her knee late in the basketball season, sidelining her for part of the softball season. This past year, Bonnema had stress fractures and torn ligaments in her right foot, again, late in the basketball season.
Despite the setback, she hit .328 this year with three home runs, three triples and seven doubles, as the Vikings reached the Class 2A regional final game.
"She was usually the first player dressed for a practice," Illiana Christian softball coach Mike Oppenhuis said. "She has decent speed for someone her size, and we could always count on her to hit the ball when we needed it ... she is a high-character person who enjoys and does very well in competition."
Bonnema will spend part of her summer driving two and a half hours to Huntington to participate in open gyms. Though some competitors during her high school career were surprised she did not play club basketball or volleyball, Bonnema relishes the broad athletic experience she had at Illiana Christian.
"I really enjoyed playing sports there, and my senior year was the most fun I had," she said. "I was never wanted to just do one sport. Actually, I think I would've become bored if I just played one sport in high school."