Sister Jean: The Face of an Underdog

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Sister Jean: The Face of an Underdog

Sister Jean was indeed a contributing factor to the successful March Madness run of Loyola-Chicago University (Courtesy of Flickr).

Sister Jean was indeed a contributing factor to the successful March Madness run of Loyola-Chicago University (Courtesy of Flickr).

Sister Jean was indeed a contributing factor to the successful March Madness run of Loyola-Chicago University (Courtesy of Flickr).

Sister Jean was indeed a contributing factor to the successful March Madness run of Loyola-Chicago University (Courtesy of Flickr).

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By Faustino Galante

Sister Jean was indeed a contributing factor to the successful March Madness run of Loyola-Chicago University (Courtesy of Flickr).

On Saturday, March 31, 11 seed underdog Loyola-Chicago was defeated by Michigan in the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Final Four 69-57. Loyola’s run to the semi-finals was an improbable one. College basketball fans throughout the United States were stupefied and captivated by the “ramblers’” successes in March Madness. While Loyola’s team as a whole was undeniably venerated by spectators, an unlikely figure came to represent the team’s triumphs: Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM.

The 98-year old sister of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary went above and beyond her role as Loyola’s team chaplain. Following Loyola’s last-second upset victory in the first round against the University of Miami, news outlets across the U.S. referenced the sister in their headlines. By participating in numerous press conferences and interviews after the first round, Sister Jean quickly became a staple of this year’s tournament.

While many have approached Sister Jean’s role as a mere gimmick, it is important to note how vital she truly was for Loyola University Chicago. Sister Jean’s presence on Loyola’s bench helped diminish much of the pressure that players typically undergo during the tournament, allowed the team to gain extra media-attention and popularity, and managed to develop a profound chemistry rooted in the University’s Jesuit values.

During March Madness, fans typically seem to disregard the fact that the players participating are incredibly young to be performing in such high-stakes competitions. Recently, many have come to argue that because these players generate such great revenue for the NCAA, they should be paid. Essentially, a great deal of people now consider college basketball players to besemi-professional athletes. Media-outlets do the same. Sports journalists ruthlessly blast young athletes and point out their flaws. NCAA athletes unfortunately are subject to a seriously cut-throat culture. A great example of this is Duke senior Grayson Allen. The minute Allen walks onto the court, he is greeted with a great deal of heckling and booing. Furthermore, his antics are constantly ridiculed by news-outlets such as ESPN and Barstool Sports.

Players on the Loyola Chicago basketball team, however, were perceived in a holistic fashion. Instead of having various players singled out by fans and the media, Loyola was considered a united entity. Sister Jean helped the team achieve this. Because she took control of the spotlight, Sister Jean allowed Loyola’s players to focus on basketball, not the irrelevant publicity that comes with it.

Through Sister Jean, fans had a personality to focus on when rooting for or against Loyola. Instead of forcing a player on the team to take this role, Sister Jean used her charm to become the team’s bridge to the non- basketball aspect of the NCAA tournament.

Compared to many underdogs, Loyola was also able to gain a great deal of national attention. While the team’s Cinderella-story journey to the semi-finals undeniably helped them attract college basketball fans, Sister Jean served as “the cherry on top.” The idea of a 98-year old nun being so invested in a basketball team and having so much knowledge about the game intrigued audiences. When asked what she gave up for Lent, without any hesitation she answered, “losing.”

When it comes to athletics and academics, the underlying Jesuit principles that serve as a backbone to schools like these are placed on the back-burner. People simply forget or fail to focus on this aspect. In the case of Loyola-Chicago’s basketball team, this was obviously not the case. People were fully aware of Loyola’s Roman Catholic and Jesuit identity because of Sister Jean. While many Catholic schools also manage this through their team chaplains, Sister Jean allowed Loyola to take it an extra step. Fans not only acknowledge the school’s Jesuit identity, but they embrace it. Sister Jean made the idea of a school backed by Jesuit values popular and entertaining.

Though Loyola Chicago was defeated on Saturday night, neither the team’s legacy nor that of Sister Jean will be forgotten. Other college programs will learn from Loyola’s adoption of Sister Jean and will take similar measures to find someone to place in the national spotlight and to take pressure off of their players. However, it is without a doubt, that no one will ever manage to outclass the mythic figure Sister Jean.

 

Faustino Galante, FCRH ’20, is a psychology major from Buffalo, New York.