98-year-old nun the breakout star of March Madness
Published Monday, March 26, 2018 4:12PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 29, 2018 12:40PM EDT
Every team has its superstitions and good luck charms.
For the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers, it’s 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt.
The nun has been courtside in her wheelchair and watched her 11th-ranked team shoot from underdog status to the NCAA Final Four. Some have called it divine intervention. Dolores-Schmidt is the team’s chaplain, who leads the Ramblers in pre-game prayer and provides spiritual advice and inspiration.
The nun spoke with CTV News Channel from Chicago on Monday — delighted to be speaking with her “wonderful neighbours to the north” — but said she doesn’t consider herself a charm, though she’s heard the buzz too. Even former U.S. President Barack Obama tweeted about her.
“I didn’t know that I was a charm,” she said, suspecting that media hype has placed some of the responsibility for the team’s winning streak on her shoulders. “I had a few interviews and then everything mushroomed. It’s overwhelming for me, but I have plenty to talk about so I want everybody to know our story.”
Sister Jean blew up on social media following her team’s buzzer-beating win against 6th-ranked Miami Hurricanes, another step in the team’s surprise domination during March Madness. Over the weekend, the team bested the Kansas State Wildcats to advance to the Final Four. Sister Jean imagined the team’s performance during the tournament to go one of two ways. In fact, she drew up two imaginary brackets, one that predicted the team would make it to the top 16, or “Sweet Sixteen,” and the other she dubbed her “Cinderella dream bracket” where the Ramblers go “all the way.”
“When they got to the Elite Eight, one of the comments from Clayton Custer was ‘Sister Jean, we broke your bracket!’ I said, ‘Keep breaking it, that’s fine with me,’” she said.
Congrats to @LoyolaChicago and Sister Jean for a last-second upset - I had faith in my pick!— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 15, 2018
She has faith they can take it to the end just like the Ramblers did 55 years ago against the Cincinnati Bearcats, a game and team that Dolores-Schmidt can still remember. “I know they have courage and I know they’re generous. I know they’re confident,” she said.
She first got involved in basketball at Loyola University Chicago in 1994 when she was prepared to retire and the president at the time suggested she keep herself busy in athletics. She became responsible for mentoring students whose academics were at risk of waning because of their time spent practicing their sport of choice. They would check in with Sister Jean who would make sure they were on top of their schoolwork, but the position didn’t last long.
“They became better students, so they didn’t need me in that position,” she said. That’s when she was offered the position of chaplain — a religious representative paired with a secular group — for the men’s basketball team, the only woman chaplain to a men’s team at the time.
As the Ramblers’ spiritual guide, Dolores-Schmidt prefers to keep her advice simple.
“If it gets too deep in theology, maybe they won’t want to hear it that way,” she said. “They believe in God and we talk to God as though he was our friend. He is your friend and he wants you to ask him for things and he also wants you to thank him for what he does. I try to make it as simple as possible.”
With God and Sister Jean at their side, the Ramblers still have a tough road ahead. They’re set to play the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday. Dolores-Schmidt said Monday that she planned to scout the opponent and learn from their past performance. But the team never knows how their chemistry will be on any given day.
“We always have to take the human factor into consideration, which is hard to determine until the young men get on the floor,” she said. “We could be cold or we could be very hot.”