‘I’m speechless:’ Dowagiac native cherishing NFL playoff run with Detroit Lions Cheerleaders

Published 5:00 am Friday, January 26, 2024

DETROIT — The Detroit Lions are making a historic playoff run with a Dowagiac native playing an active role. 

Jacki WJ experienced the Detroit Lions’ historic playoff wins over the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers this month as a rookie member of the Detroit Lions Cheerleaders.

The win against the Rams was the Lions’ first home playoff win since 1991.

“I’ve never had a front row seat as a fan to any Michigan sports game,” she said. “So to be on the field now is an unreal experience and just to see and hear the different things that you do on the field and just having that front row seat, you just feel grateful for it. It’s been amazing. “I’m just speechless; I never expected to be in this position, especially in my rookie year. I’m just excited to experience the NFL regular season and for the Lions to be in this position, it’s crazy.”

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. 

Jacki attended Grand Valley State University where she was a member of the Laker Dance Team. After graduating in April 2023 with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, Jacki accepted a try-out invitation with the DLC and made the team. Since then, she has enjoyed the experience every step of the way.

“To be in this position, I feel extremely grateful,” she said. “I’m grateful for everyone who has gotten me here and I’m grateful to [Lions Director of Entertainment Rebecca Smoker] for this opportunity.”

The Lions defeated the Los Angeles Rams 24-23 Jan. 14 in a wild card game against former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. On Jan. 21, the Lions defeated the Buccaneers 31-23 to advance to the NFC Championship Game. 

Jacki and her fellow cheerleaders helped the Lions set new decibel records at Ford Field. According to the Lions organization, the crowd noise during Sunday’s divisional round game reached 134.4 decibels, topping the previous mark of 133.6 decibels set in Detroit’s win over the Rams the week prior.

Jacki said the playoff atmosphere at Ford Field was unlike anything she has experienced.

“The wild card game was extremely loud,” she said. “I didn’t think it could get any louder than that but then we had another home playoff game and it was probably five to ten times louder than that last game. It was just an unreal experience being on the field. I could still hear my teammates a little bit but last Sunday’s game we were having to yell to each other to start and stop a routine or start and stop our sidelines because it was so loud in the stadium that we couldn’t hear each other… Just to be in that environment was crazy to experience as a rookie; I can’t imagine how our veterans on the cheer team feel because they’ve been waiting for this moment for years now.”

Jacki is grateful for the opportunity becoming an NFL cheerleader has provided her.

“I’m just grateful that I can keep continuing my dance career,” she said. “That’s what I was looking for and the fact that I get to do it this way…it’s awesome to continue this journey with my dance career. To be able to represent my town, it means so much because with my mom owning a dance studio and me growing up there and having my dance family’s support, my family, my friends, it just means so much. Now, to represent the Lions and the Lions organization too just means a lot.”

For Jacki, ​​taking 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 and the wild card playoff game against the Rams were two moments from this season she will never forget.

“Just that feeling and hearing the crowd knowing that I am actually an NFL cheerleader was an insane feeling,” she said. “And then fast forwarding to the wild card playoff game against the Rams and it was the last final seconds of the game with the score being 24-23. It was just like the realization setting in of ‘we’re about to win this game’ and then me and my teammates were just jumping around and cheering. Some tears were shed as well. It was just a really special experience.”

Jacki’s mother, Michele –owner of Dowagiac dance studio Miss Michele and Co. – and family were able to attend last Sunday’s playoff game against the Buccaneers. 

“That means so much,” she said. “[Detroit] is three hours away from Dowagiac so for people to travel and come watch me on the field as a cheerleader for the Lions means so much, especially my mom and my family. I just love seeing them in the stands; my mom made a sign for me this past game and it was a great hot pink so I could point her out each time I looked over in her sectioning. It means a lot to see my mom in the stands and my friends and family.” 

The Lions face the San Francisco 49ers at 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday at San Francisco, aiming for an appearance in its first-ever Super Bowl.

Jacki does not know if the DLC would participate in the Super Bowl at this time but would be ready to represent both her tribe and the Dowagiac community on the national stage if they do.

“That would honestly be the highlight of my life,” she said. “It would mean the world to me and I would cherish every moment if we were able to go.”