How a 98-year-old nun became a March Madness star

Loyola v Tennessee
Getty Images | Tom Pennington

The annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament always has its share of feel-good stories. After all, who doesn’t love seeing underdog teams going deep into the tournament thanks to an upset or two?

But forget the people actually playing basketball for a minute. One 98-year-old fan has become the centerpiece of a team’s unlikely run to the tournament’s Sweet 16 round, becoming a superstar in her own right.

Sister Jean Dolores Smith is the chaplain for the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers basketball team. She got the world’s attention after her team—which earned a No. 11 seed at the start of the tournament—began its unlikely run with a last-second upset win over the University of Miami in the first round.

sister jean loyola photo
Getty Images | Tom Pennington

Right after the game ended, with Loyola winning 64-62, Smith was interviewed by TruTV, sharing her in-depth knowledge of the underdog team.

“I said we want to get the big ‘W’ up there and we did,” Smith told the network’s reporter. “They have great teamwork and they’re really good guys.

Her interviews have gone viral on social media, likely because her spirit and fire for the Ramblers is contagious!

Sister Jean, as she’s affectionately called by the team and her fans, is known as Loyola’s “not-so-secret weapon.” Despite being 98 years old, she makes it a point to attend as many home games as possible and was committed to traveling to Dallas, Texas, where the team began its NCAA tournament journey. Ramblers players apparently love Smith’s determination, loyalty and spirit. She leads the team in prayer, and gives them her feedback and guidance on their play before most games.

“In the middle of her prayer there’s a scouting report mixed in,” Loyola player Clayton Custer told ESPN. “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.”

Sister Jean has been part of Loyola since 1991, when she started there as an academic advisor. She took on the role of the basketball team’s chaplain in 1994 and has been one of its biggest supporters, both on the court and behind the scenes. And, she’s not shy about her passion for the game of basketball.

“She’s like another coach,” senior Donte Ingram told SB Nation. “The first game (as a freshman), it caught me off guard. I thought she was just going to pray. She prayed, but then she starts saying, ‘You’ve got to box out and watch out for 23.’”

Smith’s scouting reports have apparently helped the team this year, as the Ramblers have a 30-5 record following the team’s 63-62 second-round NCAA tournament win over the University of Tennessee on Saturday.

College basketball fans, no matter which team they like, apparently can’t get enough of Smith, either.

sister jean loyola photo
Getty Images | Ronald Martinez

As her guys get ready for the next step in their tournament dance—they play the University of Nevada, Reno on March 22 in Atlanta—Sister Jean continues to provide scouting reports and stays true to her mantra: “It’s one game at a time for us.”

Good luck to Loyola and its biggest fan as the team continues in the Big Dance!

Entertainment, Good News, News

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About the Author
Marie Rossiter
Marie is a freelance writer and content creator with more than 20 years of experience in journalism. She lives in southwest Ohio with her husband and is almost a full-fledged empty nest mom of two daughters. She loves music, reading, word games, and Walt Disney World.

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