Sport today gives us so many reasons to be cynical about whatever game we’re watching. Contracts the size of Powerball payouts. Athletes with egos that would make President Donald Trump blush. Ticket prices that take a tiger-shark-sized bite out of your bank account.
Here in Chicago, however, we’ve found a bit of salve to numb the cynicism. She’s 98, in a wheelchair after a fall broke her hip, and by now, a household name across the country. Jean Dolores Schmidt, aka “Sister Jean,” is team chaplain to Chicago’s Loyola University Ramblers, who are Sweet 16-bound after winning a couple of nail-biters in the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.
She’s won the hearts of tournament watchers with that wide smile and her pregame prayers with the team. “Don’t let those Tennessee team members scare you with their height,” she told the team before the game against the Volunteers, an invocation that was equal parts pep talk and prayer. “You’re good jumpers. You’re good rebounders. You’re good at everything, and just keep that in mind.”
The bond between Sister Jean and her Ramblers is rock-solid. After stunning Tennessee with guard Clayton Custer’s game-winning, final-seconds jumper, the team queued up to give Sister Jean a hug. “For her to be doing what she’s doing at her age, it’s amazing. And it’s inspiring,” Custer told the Associated Press.
It sure is a lot more inspiring than a coach who throws chairs across the gym floor. (Bobby Knight, for those too young to remember.) Sister Jean’s connection with this year’s Cinderella Ramblers reminds us that, in the billion-dollar business of college basketball, there’s ample room for people like her. We know every team can’t have a Sister Jean, but wouldn’t it be great if each team had someone like her, someone who inspires fire in each player but also keeps their heads in the right place?
Sister Jean’s connection with her Ramblers isn’t going to change what’s wrong with sports. But it certainly gives us a welcome moment to breathe and smile. And it works wonders for a team with dreams of the Final Four and beyond.
On Thursday, Loyola goes to work again in Atlanta against a fiery Nevada team. We know our Ramblers will continue to amaze and inspire us. The same goes for Sister Jean.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE