The Loyola Chicago Ramblers are back in the NCAA Tournament. The team had an improbable Cinderella run to the Final Four during the 2018 March Madness Tournament. It was their first Final Four appearance since 1963 and the plucky underdog capture the hearts of many upset-minded fans during the tournament.
It also helped the Ramblers’ cause that they had one of the most popular figures of the tournament on their side. It wasn’t any player. It was Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
Sister Jean is the team chaplain for the Loyola Chicago basketball team. She has served in that role since 1994 and is beloved by the players that have come through the program. She is a huge basketball fan and possesses a great deal of knowledge about the sport.
Ahead of Loyola Chicago’s first game against Georgia Tech, here’s what you need to know about Sister Jean and what she has been up to since Loyola’s last tournament appearance.
How old is Sister Jean?
Sister Jean is 101 years old. She was born in 1919 just a month ahead of the World Series. That was the year the famous “Black Sox Scandal” occurred that saw eight members of the Chicago White Sox get banned from baseball after throwing the competition.
In her youth, Sister Jean played on her high school’s girls basketball team and joined the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary convent in Iowa. After her stint there, Sister Jean became a teacher and she has been teaching in Chicago since 1961. She taught at Mundelein College, which merged into Loyola in 1991.
Sister Jean returns to March Madness
Sister Jean is at March Madness this year. But it did take some lobbying for her to get there, as the travel rules for teams are strict in 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.A few Loyola Chicago alumni stepped up and helped her get there.
“One alum wrote and told me that her husband was willing to drive me down,” Sister Jean said in a Tuesday Zoom interview, per Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports. “Another person told me she was going to sneak me out of the university, and another couple said they would like to kidnap me, and Loyola would have to search for me.”
Ultimately, Loyola created a plan to have Sister Jean attend the tournament, and she will be accompanied by a nurse and security during her time at the event. She is looking forward to it and has already flashed her knowledge of the sport in interviews.
Sister Jean is a huge basketball fan and knows the history of the game well, so it’s no surprise that she took a shot at Kentucky missing the tournament this year. The Wildcats logged their worst winning percentage since the 1926-27 season, when sister Jean was just seven years old.
“I filled out my bracket,” Sister Jean said, per Bushnell. “I may change it before I go down there. I don’t see Kentucky any place.”
Right now, Sister Jean has Gonzaga winning, but she does have Loyola advancing to the Sweet 16 and upsetting No. 1 seed Illinois.
Sister Jean at 2018 NCAA Tournament
During the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Loyola Chicago was a No. 11 seed and was a part of March Madness after winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. They were considered to be a solid upset pick in their first-round game against the Miami Hurricanes, and they managed a two-point win.
That’s when Sister Jean rose to prominence as a figure in Loyola’s success. It was clear that the players loved her, and once the story was told of a then-98-year-old, basketball-loving nun being the team chaplain, good luck charm, and unofficial mascot of the Ramblers, her appeal broadened.
And Sister Jean’s popularity exploded as Loyola’s magical run continued.
After beating Miami, the Ramblers were able to turn their attention to No. 3 Tennessee. They beat the Volunteers by one point. Then, they moved on to face No. 7 Nevada. The Wolfpack and the Martin Twins fell by a single point as well. That set up an improbable matchup with the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats to get to the Final Four. The Ramblers won.
All throughout the run, Sister Jean was cheering on the team. After each contest, the players would greet her and she would congratulate them on their efforts. They may have busted her bracket, but she wanted them to keep doing that. And while the team was advancing, Sister Jean was talking to reporters, doing interviews, and becoming an international celebrity for being a Loyola Chicago superfan.
After the Ramblers lost to Michigan in the Final Four, Sister Jean returned to life as usual at Loyola Chicago, serving as a mentor to younger students on campus and continuing in her role as the basketball team’s chaplain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, things have been a bit more difficult, but she is still keeping in touch with students via calls and Zoom meetings. And, of course, she’s been following her beloved Ramblers on their latest tournament run even though she hasn’t been able to attend games.