Sister Jean is Small in Stature but has a Big Impact

*This article was originally published by the Loyola Phoenix*

This article won the Illinois College Press Association’s Award for Best Non-Daily Sports Feature in February 2017.

It’s safe to say that Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM, is the Loyola men’s  basketball team’s biggest fan. When she’s not handing out prayer cards to distraught students during exams or being swarmed by admirers like a rock star, Sister Jean can be found doing what she loves most: cheering on the Ramblers from her seat at the scorer’s table.

While it may seem odd that a 97-year-old nun from San Francisco would be so passionate about basketball, Sister Jean said she developed a love for all sports when she was working as an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles. The school where she taught in the early 1950s lacked any kind of sports program, and Sister Jean said she was worried that shortage was affecting her students negatively.

“I went to the school’s pastor and said, ‘Look, we don’t have any sports. Why don’t we start some teams?’” said Sister Jean. “The pastor liked the idea and told me to take care of it, so we set up seventh and eighth-grade football, basketball, soccer and, believe it or not, yo-yo. I ended up as head coach of our women’s basketball team.”

After teaching in Los Angeles, Sister Jean accepted a job in the education department at Mundelein College in 1961, when it was still an all-female Catholic college. Although Mundelein had its own basketball team, Sister Jean said she would go watch the Loyola men’s team whenever she could. But it wasn’t until 1963, when Loyola won its first and only men’s basketball championship, that Sister Jean truly became a fan.

“I remember that night so well: Another sister and I were watching the game on tape-delay on a little, black-and-white TV,” Sister Jean said. “Around midnight, when the broadcast of the game was over, all the Loyola boys came to Mundelein and grabbed the girls and began celebrating. You could hear them chanting up and down Sheridan all night long. They almost made it up to Evanston!”

In 1991, Mundelein College became affiliated with Loyola, and Sister Jean finally became an official member of the Rambler family. Three years later, she was asked to be the chaplain for the men’s basketball team and she’s held that title ever since. While she no longer travels with the team, Sister Jean goes to every home game and is always available for her players.

“As chaplain, the players know they can come talk to me whenever they wish,” she said. “And I also pray with them before the game, but it’s not the same prayer that I recite in front of the fans. I make sure to let the team know who they need to watch out for on the other side.”

While her scouting reports certainly help the Ramblers overcome their opponents, Sister Jean said she believes there is more to the team’s success than just X’s and O’s. Sister Jean said that without faith or hope in God, the team would be nowhere near as good as it is now.

“Regardless of religious culture or background, we all talk the same language to God,” she said. “That’s why we teach the three W’s: worship, work and win.”

You can’t win without work, and you can’t work without worship. Sister Jean has come to embody this ethos with her unbridled and passionate dedication to the Loyola men’s basketball team. Hopefully the players will be hearing her pregame scouting reports for many more years to come.

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