While all eyes are typically on the court during March Madness, much of the public’s focus during this year’s competition has settled just behind the sideline. Throughout the month, the chaplain for the underdog Loyola-Chicago Ramblers has been cheering the team on, providing spiritual support and motivation. Her name is Sister Jean, and she’s the sports world’s newest star.
The 98-year-old chaplain is not just a fan – she has decades of experience with the sport. Having played and coached for the Ramblers herself, the roots of her love for the game and the school are deep. In her initial predicted brackets, she initially only had her team going to the Sweet 16. Loyola has surpassed her own expectations and made it to the Final 4. During an interview, Sister Jean revealed that she did, in fact, have a bracket which saw the Ramblers going all the way to the top – this, she called her “Cinderella Dream Bracket.”
And thus, the Ramblers’ Cinderella story became a reality, alongside their chaplain’s newfound national recognition.
Sister Jean has become an inadvertent sensation among sports fans and non-sports fans alike. Loyola-Chicago University is even ordering bobbleheads in her image. During the Ramblers’ Elite 8 match against Kansas State, Sister Jean walked onto the court in custom Nike sneakers, with “Sister Jean” embroidered onto the heels. No matter what level of interest one has in the NCAA tournament, the heartwarming story of Sister Jean is one that connects us on a human level.
At face value, the story sounds like a cheesy movie: a 98 year old Sister of the Church and spiritual advisor to a NCAA Division I basketball team joins the boys on the road and catches the attention of a nation. When you think of her story in that way, it might be easy to compare Sister Jean’s sensation to that of a well-loved mascot, much like the Phili Phanatic or Benny the Bull. Likewise, on a fan level, you could compare her to the likes of the infamous “Dart Guy” from 2017 Stanley Cup, who made headlines in Canada and the States for his fanatic passion for his team. However, placing Sister Jean in either of those categories would be doing a gross disservice to her and sport culture as a whole.
Sister Jean is not a mascot. Sister Jean is not a meme.
Sister Jean is a symbol of human conviction.
The presence of a figure as purely human as Sister Jean is a breath of fresh air in the NCAA environment where you can’t seem to have a conversation without the topic of corruption, fixed games and controversial calls coming up. Just when the public was growing weary of the typical tournament formula – where the top 10 teams are easily predicted and the champion is decided long before the brackets are whittled down – the Ramblers and their chaplain reminded us what charms us about sports in the first place.
Sister Jean represents the very core of what sports – and college sports particular – should be about. That is dedication to the team, both in ability and in spirit and unwavering faith. So often we forget that sporting events are not only stages for competition, they are also an opportunity for us to come together as human beings and celebrate the enthusiasm that connects us all. Sister Jean seems to have served as a reminder of that humanity to us.
Whether Sister Jean herself is a good luck charm for the Ramblers may always remain up in the air; the excitement she’s brought to the tournament on a local and national scale is undisputed. While not every school can acquire a Sister of the Church for their own basketball teams, a lesson can be learned from this year’s March Madness.
Perhaps, in order to bring fans back to their unsullied love of the sport in its purest form, we each need someone like Sister Jean on the sidelines to remind us why we filled the stands in the first place.
Featured Photo: Sister Jean. COURTESY OF CHICAGO-LOYOLA ADMISSIONS/INSTAGRAM