On Saturday, Amanda Jaczkowski will offer a cautious step for the Northern Guard — but make a giant lunge for Detroit City Football Club.
The fervent follower of the semi-professional soccer team will make her triumphant return to her capo stand for the rapid supporters group when DCFC returns to action in a preseason friendly against Western Michigan at Keyworth Stadium. Kick-off is 7:30 p.m.
A capo stands at the front of a supporters section with a megaphone and leads them in chants and cheers during a soccer match.
Jaczkowski, 25, of Clinton Township, missed three games during last season’s magical playoff run after she was struck and critically injured by a gravel hauler while riding her bike on Third and Temple streets in Detroit.
The crash left her hospitalized for 85 days, a majority of which was spent at Detroit Receiving Hospital, requiring more than a dozen operations on her left leg.
Her plight became the rallying cry during DCFC’s gallant postseason, which ended in the National Premier Soccer League national semifinals with a loss to Midland Odessa on penalty kicks. Le Rouge players repeatedly told Jaczkowski’s sister Stephanie Quesnelle they were playing for Amanda while “Fight Like Hell” became the mantra for those in the greater Le Rouge family.
“I feel like it is kind of a circle. I always supported the team and I always felt the team supported me,” said Jaczkowski, who has followed the club since its inception in 2012 when it played at Cass Tech. “Now, I know the team supports me and so there is not really an option not to get back on the stand and give everything that I have.”
With that comes a caveat, though.
“I’m excited and I’m really nervous. I’m standing on a stepladder,” said Jaczkowski with a laugh, nodding toward her crutches propped against the wall at Oloman Café in Hamtramck. “And they (stepladders) are a little wobbly. I always like dancing and dancing on the little pedestal is not going to be very safe. So, I am not going to do that, but I am still going to make it fun.”
Jaczkowski’s unbridled passions for all things DCFC — and soccer — were not likely going to be suppressed by a vehicle-bike crash.
During Le Rouge’s Midwest Region encounter three days after the accident, a heavily sedated Jaczkowski scribbled a note to family members while infirmed in Detroit Receiving Hospital’s ICU. “(Expletive) Duluth FC,” the missive read, referring to Le Rouge’s opponent.
She later learned, somewhat sheepishly, the Minnesota club donated to a GoFundMe account, which raised slightly more than $20,000 to help make up lost wages from her job as a child nutrition navigator at United Way for Southeastern Michigan and cover non-medical transportation costs.
‘POSITIVE THOUGHTS, VIBES’
Jaczkowski attends Wayne State where she is pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration. She also undergoes physical therapy three times a week and will remain on crutches for the foreseeable future.
“It’s going to take a long time to get functioning as an independent human, but I am working on it,” she said.
Donations from other soccer supporters groups like the Portland Timbers and the Chattahooligans whose Tennessee-based club, Chattanooga FC, will play DCFC in a home-and-away friendly series this season, followed. A couple Northern Guard favorite subjects of taunts, Grand Rapids FC and Dayton Dynamo, also contributed.
The outpouring of support during her convalescence went well beyond monetary.
DerbyCity Ultras, who follow both the United Soccer League Louisville City FC and Premier Development League Derby City Rovers, made Jaczkowski a custom coloring book with DCFC-themed illustrations. They also provided her a scarf and a teddy bear.
Irish League Glentoran FC, which played DCFC in a friendly at Keyworth Stadium last year, sent a get-well card signed by the team.
“I’m not going to confine it to the Northern Guard and DCFC, there were people out of state that support other teams who were rallying around to send their positive thoughts and positive vibes,” she said. “Anything they had, they were sending it in my direction.”
If anything, Jaczkowski was getting the love back she’s put into the game.
As a home-schooler, she played soccer for Summit Sports, which competed against the likes of Grosse Pointe University Liggett and Lutheran North. She also played intermural soccer three to six nights a week at Central Michigan where she majored in International Relations and Religion.
She also coached youth soccer for Mount Pleasant parks and recreation.
With her major, though, she had loftier goals, which included learning Arabic. She studied at Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman, Jordan, during spring 2014.
“I wanted to save the world,” she said. “So, I studied abroad and at some point when I was over there I kind of realized that most of the problems that I would be able to attempt to solve we have here in Detroit.”
She sits on the steering committee for Dream of Detroit, which is a Muslim-led community effort to improve a 10-block neighborhood by the Lodge and Davison freeways. Six homes, so far, have been renovated and are inhabited through the program, Jaczkowski said.
Two summers ago, 150 trees were planted through Greening of Detroit and Central Michigan honors program will chipping in to help with one of the upcoming neighborhood clean-up efforts, she added.
Such endeavors dovetail with being a member of a soccer supporters group, which also requires an unwavering commitment.
‘EASY TO GET SUCKED IN’
Jaczkowski fell in with DCFC and its spirited community, which quickly grew during the first year at Cass Tech.
“It was easy to get sucked in,” she said. “The first game I went to I sat on the supporters’ side. It was there that I heard the chanting. That was something that I wanted to be a part of. As time went on, it got a little funkier, people coming wearing outfits, there was smoke, there were the chants, there were the drums … it was a lively environment. It was something I really appreciated.”
After the second and third season, she began to make more friends. The Northern Guard solidified into a larger outfit.
Longtime NGS member Joe Novak said Jaczkowski was being scouted for potential capo duty before formally being handed the megaphone. She was summoned into action during a friendly against Windsor FC in 2016.
“Even though she can be kind of shy sometimes when she gets around City folks, she brightens up,” Novak says. “It’s infectious to me and everybody else around here.
“We thought, ‘Oh man, she would be a perfect person to become a capo.’”
On match day, Northern Guard members meet at the Fowling Warehouse where capos fold about 1,000 hymnals. After the ceremonial march to the field, there is dancing and other frivolities before kick-off.
As a capo, Jaczkowski instructs supporters what’s in store: Chanting, standing only, smoke, moving back-and-forth (especially during the Tetris) and to clean up their garbage.
“We’ll definitely tease the people who are not dancing and chanting … a little bit through the megaphone,” she said.
To have Jaczkowski back urging supporters on will be music to Novak’s ears.
The NGS capo knew signs were good when he heard she was having her physical therapist make her go and up and down a stepladder.
“I think I will probably be crying like a little baby when I see her up there,” Novak said. “It was so scary for all of us when that whole accident happened and to see her come back from literally getting hit by a Mack truck to being back up there on the cap stand.
“It shows how strong she is and it is going to be inspiring for all of us.”
DETROIT CITY FC VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Kick-off: 7:30 Saturday, Keyworth Stadium, Hamtramck
Tickets: $10 general admission