This year's March Madness will have a very special attendee: Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt!
The 101-year-old chaplain of Chicago's Loyola Ramblers, who first became an internet sensation back in 2018 during March Madness, will be in attendance at the team's opening game in the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis on Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Ramblers will play against Georgia Tech.
Sister Jean has not attended any Ramblers games since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. Instead, she's been delivering pregame prayers for the team virtually from her senior independent living apartment in downtown Chicago, ESPN reported.
For weeks, Sister Jean lobbied hard to be in attendance at the NCAA Tournament. And on Tuesday, the avid basketball lover finally got her wish.
Per ESPN, Sister Jean — who has already received both of her COVID-19 vaccine shots — will not have any direct in-person contact at Friday's game and will be provided with a nurse, security, and meal service at the team's Indianapolis hotel.
"What they wanted to do was be sure that all the safety factors were taken into consideration," Sister Jean said during a video conference Tuesday, according to reports. "Sometimes people who haven't gone to the games or to the NCAA or even to March Madness, they're not sure exactly what goes on there. Sometimes they think it's like a teenage concert, where everybody's going to surround me and might not have any breathing space."
"If I'm not supposed to go on the court, I'm not going to go," she added. "And I'm not going to cause any disturbance."
Sister Jean has already filled out her personal March Madness bracket and, of course, has Loyola-Chicago advancing to the Elite Eight. She said she ultimately decided on top-ranked Gonzaga to win it all, though.
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Sister Jean has not been on Loyola's campus since March 11 of last year. During isolation, she admitted to being "lonely without seeing" the team and found it "difficult" having to watch the games on TV rather than in-person, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Along with delivering virtual pregame prayers, she stayed involved by emailing with the players. She also provided a scouting report of the other teams for Ramblers coach Porter Moser.
"Porter doesn't mind that because even without talking, we're on the same page," she said. "And then at the end of the prayer, when I'm talking to them, I ask them to extend their hands as I ask God to bless their hands to help them make the baskets and their free throws and so forth and that we want to be sure to win the game."
Sister Jean has served as the Ramblers chaplain since 1994. She joined the staff at Loyola-Chicago three years prior.
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