BOSTON – On Sunday, Sept. 8, the Northeastern women’s soccer team will honor the late Jackie Spellman by retiring her No. 14 leading up to its kick off against Ohio State.
Spellman becomes the first NU female student-athlete and fifth overall to have their number retired. She joins Sean Jones (football), Reggie Lewis (men’s basketball), Greg Montalbano (baseball), and Dan Ross (football) as the only Huskies to have their number retired.
Spellman passed away in April 2009 after a 14-month battle with leukemia.
Spellman played for Northeastern from 2002 to 2005. By the end of her collegiate career, she set a program record by appearing in 78 games. Shortly after graduating from NU with honors in 2007, she received an offer to work in marketing for the Houston Texans. Although her professional life took her to the NFL, Spellman never lost touch with soccer.
While in Houston, Spellman both played in a women’s soccer league and coached a youth girls’ soccer team.
Spellman had been in Houston for just a few short weeks when she started to develop rashes and bruises on her legs. Shortly thereafter, she began to feel ill. Blood work determined that she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of blood and bone marrow cancer.
Despite the grim diagnosis, Spellman, in many ways, viewed AML as a challenge. After all, she had spent her entire life searching for new challenges.
Spellman didn’t start playing soccer until she was 10 years old. At that age, most of her young teammates were more experienced in the sport. But she was already well versed in basketball, baseball, and hockey. Soccer presented a new conquest.
Her mother, Laurie Meyer, was taken by surprise. “I said ‘Soccer? You want to play soccer?'” Meyer recalled. “I didn’t know anything about soccer.”
As quickly as Meyer’s basic knowledge of soccer grew, her daughter’s love for the pitch grew even quicker.
“Jackie just loved playing soccer,” said Meyer. “She wanted her teammates to love soccer just as much as she did. And she wanted her teammates to win as much as she did.”
A native of Wethersfield, Conn., Spellman was captain of both the Wethersfield High School girls’ soccer and basketball teams during her senior year. She was recruited by several Division-I soccer programs in the northeast, but her affinity for Boston combined with Northeastern’s academics and improving women’s soccer program made Huntington Avenue a no-brainer.
Paige Harrison, Spellman’s former NU teammate, remembers how Spellman’s passion for soccer poured onto her teammates.
“She would always make you remember why you were there,” said Harrison. “She made you love the game more than you already did.”
As a junior, Spellman helped lead the Huskies to what then stood as a program-best 12 wins.
Spellman was always competing. If not during games, then she was sure to be competing during practice. And if not during practice, Spellman was sure to lead small shooting competitions before practice. Say, the first one to drill the cross bar from a given distance wins.
“She was so competitive, but she always competed with a smile on her face,” said Harrison.
Spellman viewed competition more as a personal challenge than in matters of wins and losses. She was always looking to challenge herself, all the while maintaining a quirky sense of humor.
Before one particular practice, she told her teammates that she was going to practice with her hair down. Her headband would keep her hair in place, directly in front of her face. Spellman’s declaration drew some laughs, but she was kidding only in part. The constant visual obstruction would provide her with a unique challenge.
Spellman was a quiet jokester, though, just as she tended to keep quiet about her academic success. It wasn’t until Spellman’s graduation day that Meyer learned her daughter was graduating with honors.
“Jackie had to do the best, she had to be the best,” said Meyer. “If I told her she was outstanding, she would say she had to do more. She would say, ‘I can do better.'”
The Jackie Spellman Scholarship Foundation was established in 2009 with the goal “to honor Jackie’s memory by providing college scholarships to those whose lives have been impacted by leukemia or lymphoma.” Click here to visit the website.