Dowagiac native enjoying rookie season with Detroit Lions Cheerleaders

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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DOWAGIAC — A lifetime love for dance has propelled a Dowagiac native to the bright lights of the National Football League.

Jacki W.-J. is gearing up for her rookie season with the Detroit Lions Cheerleaders. A Dowagiac graduate and member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Jacki made the team in July after accepting an invitation to Detroit Lions Cheerleaders Training camp for the 2023-2024 season in May. While she has participated in two preseason games, she said it has yet to sink in that she is an NFL cheerleader.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “I’m super grateful to be in this position. I feel like every time I come home to Dowagiac my mom is like ‘how do you feel?’ I feel like I’m still in shock, I’m really a Detroit Lions cheerleader.”

A 2019 Dowagiac grad, Jacki attended Grand Valley State University, where she was a member of the Laker Dance Team. After graduating in April with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, Jacki accepted a try-out invitation with the DLC after a former Laker Dance Team member who made the DLC encouraged her to try out.

“I became interested (in trying out) during my last year at Grand Valley,” she said. “I feel like dancing during college really prepared me for this moment… The tryout experience was very exciting. I was just super grateful to be there in that position. There were great women around me; it was a great experience to dance alongside the vets. It was a long audition process, I enjoyed preparing for auditions, attending master classes, the pre-audition clinic and ultimately just getting to experience the whole thing.”

When she learned that she made the team, Jacki called her mother, Michele, owner of dance studio Miss Michele and Co., to share the good news.

“She’s been my biggest support throughout my whole life, dance-wise, mom-wise and family-wise. I called her immediately and she cried, I cried; we shared good tears. I was so excited when I got the call. They welcomed me with such open arms. I’m just super grateful.”

Jacki took the field for the first time as a DLC member for Detroit’s preseason opener against the New York Giants Aug. 11 at Ford Field. It was a moment she will never forget.

“Being in the tunnel with a few of the rookies, we had tears in our eyes because we were so overwhelmed with excitement,” she said. “Walking out of the tunnel was an experience I will never forget. Being on the field was an NFL field with legends and huge names was an amazing experience.”

Jacki has been dancing since she was two years old, with her passion for dancing evolving every step of the way.

“Since I started at such a young age, I was able to explore it more,” she said. “I kind of just fell in love with it. It really helps that I grew up within my family with both my mom and my sister dancing and teaching dance. I feel like I really found my passion and I’m just glad that I’m able to keep doing it.”

According to Jacki, her mom’s love and teachings have had a significant impact on her growth both as a person and as a dancer.

“I look up to her so much,” she said. “She’s a very hardworking individual. She not only owns a studio, she works (for the Pokagon Band) as well. She only wants the best for me no matter what and she is my biggest supporter.”

The Detroit Lions’ 2023 home opener is Sept. 17 against the Seattle Seahawks, where Jacki and the DLC will be rousing the crowd. For Jacki, representing both her tribe and the Dowagiac community on the national stage are things that mean a lot to her.

“It means so much,” she said. “Everyone has been so loving and supportive through social media and in person. I come home to Dowagiac and I truly feel like a celebrity in my town. I will be walking in downtown Dowagiac and someone will beep at me and say ‘congratulations Jacki.’ It just feels so good to make my community proud and represent them in that way.”