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updated: 5/10/2014 10:03 PM

Tough times for terrific softball friends Jana and Jaz

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  • Warren softball senior teammates Jana Wagner and Jazmin Bonke were already best friends, and now both are coping, together, with the loss of a parent within the past year.

      Warren softball senior teammates Jana Wagner and Jazmin Bonke were already best friends, and now both are coping, together, with the loss of a parent within the past year.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer


Their journey together started 10 years ago as second-graders, Jana and Jaz, little girls who would become the best of friends.

Then last fall, the journey took a cruel twist. An equally terrible turn followed in February. And then Friday, on their way to Warren softball practice, Jaz Bonke and Jana Wagner, who've learned how to deal with each other during both good and bad times, found themselves on an actual road.

Two teenage girls in a car weren't seeing eye to eye.

"We act more like sisters than best friends," Wagner said.

Which explains their heated exchange in the car.

"We just had a huge fight on the way here," Bonke said. "It was bad.

"It was just a wrong turn."

Who was right, whether they should have turned right, doesn't matter.


Bonke and Wagner live down the street from each other in Wadsworth. Bonke was born on Oct. 5, 1995. Wagner was born 19 days later, on Oct. 24. They love softball. They love each other.

The softball teammates have something else in common. Each girl has lost a parent during her senior year of high school.

Sherry Wagner had double-knee replacement surgery Sept. 11 of last fall. A former softball player herself, she came home about a week early, Jana said. She was no doubt itching to get back on her feet soon because, after all, she loved to keep her feet moving.

The next morning, Sept. 20, she passed away suddenly due to a blood clot in her lung.

The always-on-the-go Sherry Wagner was just 56, wife of Doug, mother of Jana and oldest child Keith, 32.

Today is Mother's Day, which will never be the same for the Wagners.

"Everything was fine," Jana said. "They sent her home early because she was doing so well."

Scott Bonke, too, was loving life. He was likable. Funny. A guy's guy.

Then on the Sunday morning of Feb. 9, he left the house. He was driving on Route 173. Another car came out of nowhere. It slammed into him, and he died of internal injuries.

A painter and decorator, he was just 45, husband of Michele, father of Jaz and her kid sister, Chloe, 13.

"We know nothing other than a car went into the left-turn lane, turning into a neighborhood and hit him in his driver's side," Jaz said. "I guess the door hit his ribs, and his ribs punctured his heart."

Scott Bonke's family didn't learn about his death until the police knocked on their door that night.

Next month is Father's Day, which will never be the same for the Bonkes.

"With both experiences, I was crying, but I was in just so much shock that I didn't have any emotion," Jaz said. "It was really surreal."

What do you say to your best friend when she loses her father?

What do you say to your best friend when she loses her mother?

"I really didn't say much (to Jana)," Jaz said. "We know each other so well, so when we're around each other we don't really need to be spoken to. Pretty much what anybody says is not going to change anything. We were just there for one another."

That's what best friends do.

"She was at my house for like two weeks straight, just staying with me," Jana said of Jaz. "I did the same."

The softball field offers Bonke and Wagner a temporary escape, a place where they can focus on something else in their lives.

Wagner, who will pitch for Division II Palm Beach Atlantic College in south Florida, is pitching for the third year in a row on varsity. She's putting together another strong season for the Blue Devils. Bonke, who started in left field last year, patrols center field. Last year, they helped Warren win a Class 4A sectional championship.

This year, the resilient teens have managed to keep their games up.

"Softball has always been my 'go-to,'" said Bonke, who plans to attend the University of Iowa. "Even when I'm irritated going into practice, once I'm playing, I'm totally fine. I was thankful that softball was coming right up after everything happened."

"Softball's helped keep my mind off it a little," Wagner said. "I'm just trying to keep going."

The two friends have probably never needed each other more than they do now. They know they're not alone in their suffering.

"It's helped having someone in the same exact shoes as me," Wagner said.

"School and softball help a lot," Bonke said. "They keep me busy. If I'm home alone for awhile or something, it usually doesn't end up going well."

When the Blue Devils are on the field together, Bonke and Wagner are just two girls on the team. Their teammates don't treat them differently from the other girls, and that's how the two seniors want it.

On a recent Saturday, Warren softball held its inaugural Sherry Wagner Warren Special Recreation Association game. Jana's brother, Keith, has special needs. A plaque honoring the tireless Sherry Wagner was hung on the press box.

"She was involved in a million different things," Wagner said of her mom. "There's tons of different groups of people that know her."

Warren softball coach Bryan McNulty called Sherry Wagner the ultimate team mom.

"When you needed something done, she would offer herself," McNulty said. "Just the biggest heart in the world."

"I grew up with her," Bonke said. "She'd do anything for any of the girls."

Scott Bonke coached Jaz when she was younger. He was a player's coach.

"He was the coach that all the girls would go to," Jana said. "When we played travel and he was helping coach, he would always be the one to make us laugh."

"Scott could talk to anybody," McNulty said. "It didn't matter what you looked like, what you had. He was very good with every person."

"He was a great person," Bonke said of her dad. "I'd like to be exactly like him. I think I am in some ways. It's hard to get across how good a person he was."

She just did.

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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