Jean Dolores Schmidt proudly showed off the ring as she sat courtside in a wheelchair and a Loyola jacket, with fans chanting, “You deserve it.”
In case you’d forgotten how big a deal she was a season ago, she became a meme, gave interviews and saw a bobblehead created in her honor set sales records. At the Final Four, her news conference drew a standing-room-only crowd, as The Washington Post’s Chuck Culpepper wrote. “Looking in the media room, walking by, you would have thought she was one of us,” Loyola Chicago guard-forward Donte Ingram said. “I walked by, I thought it looked like Tom Brady at the Super Bowl,” Coach Porter Moser said.
She took the sudden fame in stride, calling the Final Four run “the most fun I’ve had in my life.” At a time when there’s so much to lament about college sports, she was a breath of fresh air.
“I never even imagined two or three,” she said, “let alone this large group. Everything just seemed to mushroom, and I could never tell you how that happens. It’s just like when students visit universities before they’re admitted, when they’re in high school. I always tell them that something magical happens. You don’t know what it is, but you know you belong there.
“And so if I got nervous when all this was happening, I said to myself, ‘Well, I tell other people it’s magical, and so just go and do it.’ And it’s a big thrill for me to be here this morning and all of you, and you know what? I’m not a bit nervous.”
Now 99, she’s back again, providing her own special mix of the spiritual with Xs and Os.
“The way she prayed just stuck out,” Clayton Custer said in the spring. “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.”
On Tuesday night, Sister Jean’s beaming face was the highlight as the Ramblers lost, 79-65.