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March Madness Bonus: The Nun in Loyola-Chicago’s Huddle
Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt is a 98-year-old nun who serves as the team chaplain for Loyola University-Chicago’s N.C.A.A. tournament-bound basketball team.
She asks for God’s protection for the players. She asks for the referees to call fouls “justly.” She asks that the Ramblers execute the plays the way they were intended. The relationship between Sister Jean and Moser, 49, dates to 2011, when Moser, a career assistant, was hired to revitalize Loyola’s program. On his first day, he arrived at his new office and found a manila folder on his desk. Inside it was a scouting report, compiled by Sister Jean, detailing the strengths and weaknesses of each player he had inherited.
The scouting reports haven’t stopped. Day after day, season after season, Sister Jean pores over box scores of Loyola’s upcoming opponents, weighing what she finds against her insider’s knowledge of Loyola’s players. She is careful to note the smallest of details, which she conveys when she stands in a huddle to pray with her arms wrapped around players’ waists. The moments, she said, are not as holy as some might guess: In between invocations, she also warns the players to watch out for the opponent’s top performers.
But it is there, in the huddle, surrounded by players who tower over her, that Sister Jean says she can feel the goodness of the players enveloping her.
“They’re very special, and they’re very good,” she said. “These kids play with their hearts and their heads because they love their school and because they love basketball.”
After each Loyola game, Sister Jean sends emails to Moser, to his coaching staff and then to each player. She limits her written words to the team to only a few paragraphs, she said, but then always adds a personalized message congratulating a player for his performance or encouraging the downtrodden.
There’s been days throughout my last four years when I had a bad game, a down game,” the Loyola senior Donte Ingram said. “We might have won. We might have lost. But at the end of the message, she always found a way to make me feel better.”
Before she fell and broke her left hip on Nov. 14, Sister Jean had missed only two Loyola home games since 1994. She typically makes her way around campus in a pair of custom maroon basketball sneakers with her name stitched in gold thread on the back. When she was forced to miss eight home games this season after surgery to repair her hip, Sister Jean followed the play-by-play of Ramblers games on her iPad, envisioning each play without the luxury of a video feed.
And despite her absence, the prayers, the emails and the scouting reports never missed a beat.
With one more medical clearance from doctors, Sister Jean plans to head to Texas to cheer on her beloved Ramblers. If her health prevents the trip, she said, she will watch on television. It is the same way she watched Loyola’s greatest basketball moment: a 60-58 victory over two-time defending champion Cincinnati in the 1963 national championship game.
“I know she’s going to be there with us in prayer and cheering us on,” Ingram said. “And that means a lot to us.”
Original article from the New York Times.
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