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Travis Heying, TNS

Travis Heying, TNS

There is nothing more inspiring than an underdog story, and this years March Madness has a great one.

The Loyola University Chicago Ramblers has become only the fourth No. 11 seed team to reach the Final Four in the history of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

This superstar team has someone just as inspiring guiding them to victory. Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt has been the team’s chaplain for almost a quarter of a century. She is 98 years old, and the true start of the NCAA tournament.

As a former basketball player and coach herself, she knows the game, giving the players a scouting report and leading them in prayer before each game.

Before their game against number three ranked Tennessee she told the team, “Don’t let those Tennessee team members scare you with their height,” she said. “Height doesn’t mean that much. You’re good jumpers. You’re good rebounders. You’re good at everything. And just keep that in mind.”

Clayton Custer, the team’s point guard recalled his first game for Loyola Chicago and his first encounter with Sister Jean saying, “The way she prayed just stuck out. In the middle of her prayer there’s a scouting report mixed in. She tells us who their best players are and what to watch out for. Sometimes she’ll pray for the referee to make the right calls. And at the end, she’ll literally pray that we come out on top.”

Sister Jean is taking her newfound March Madness celebrity status in stride.

She arrived at the Ramblers most recent game wearing custom “Sister Jean Nike Air Force Ones,” and has agreed to let Loyola Chicago license her name and image for bobble heads and t-shirts. One of the bobble heads is already on its way to the basketball hall of fame.

“You’re a celebrity,” CNN’s Coy Wire said in a recent interview with Sister Jean.

“I know,” she replied. “That’s what they tell me. You probably know, I corrected the reporter the other day. She said, ‘You’re national.’ I said, ‘No, we’re international.'”

According to Loyola-Chicago’s website, she’s been in the religious order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin (BVM) for 81 years. In 1961, Sister Jean moved to Mundelein College, which was an independent women’s college that merged with Loyola-Chicago in 1991. She retired from full-time work in 1994.

In 2009, she was honored with the Dux Mirabilis Award, which, according to the Loyola site, is “an honor given to an extraordinary leader in the Loyola community for outstanding contributions to the University and its mission.”

“When people say, ‘Why do you do this? You must be awfully tired,’ I said, ‘What difference does it make at 98, whether I’m tired or not?’…But the other thing is that I feel that’s what I’m called to — is to minister. And I want to do that. I talk very honestly with the young men. I talk honestly with everybody,” Sister Jean said.

The Ramblers aren’t done yet, advancing to the Final Four with a convincing 78-62 win against No. 9 seed Kansas State. It’s Loyola’s first Final Four appearance since 1963, when the Ramblers won their lone national championship.

It’s tradition for fans to fill out NCAA brackets in advance of the tournament, trying to predict the winners of the games. Thanks to upsets from Loyola, most people have busted brackets, including Sister Jean who had the Ramblers losing in the Sweet 16.

“(Clayton) Custer said to me as he got off the court, ‘We broke your bracket, Sister Jean,'” she said of one of the Ramblers’ star players. “I said, ‘That’s fine with me. Let’s keep going.'”

Despite picking Loyola to lose in one of her brackets, she said, “I have Loyola in my second one, which I call…a Cinderella dream bracket. And they’re going to the top.”

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