INDIANAPOLIS — Butler University's historic Hinkle Fieldhouse is ready to welcome thousands of fans for games in the first two rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. But it's a good bet that just one of those fans was born before Hinkle Fieldhouse was built.
Sister Jean Delores Schmidt is Loyola University's 101-year-old team chaplain and most loyal fan. Up until the pandemic started, she attended just about every game.
In 2018, she became a national sensation during the Ramblers' surprise run to the Final Four.
Sister Mary Fran McLaughlin recalled an event not long after where "People were coming up to her saying, 'Could I have a selfie?' 'Could you call my four-year-old?'"
"People just throng around her, they want to be with her," Sister Peg Geraghty said.
Geraghty, McLaughlin and Sister Jean are all retired sisters with the Sisters of Charity of Blessed Virgin Mary. They've also been close friends for more than 50 years.
They're not surprised the Ramblers' number one fan has so many fans herself, along with her third bobblehead doll, released this week.
"It’s not just the old cliché of growing old gracefully, she's done it energetically and lovingly and through reaching out to people all the time," Geraghty said.
When the Ramblers made to the Big Dance, Sister Jean was determined to make it to the tournament.
"For her to go to this even, I'm just thrilled," McLaughlin said. "The other morning when she called, she was so excited."
Even though Sister Jean is fully vaccinated and tests regularly for COVID (she's had 30 tests so far) she wasn't a shoo-in.
As Sister Jean told sports analyst Andy Katz during an interview Thursday, she had to promise Loyola and the NCAA she'd play by the rules.
She said with smile, "I have certain regulations. They said I can't run down the court and I said I'm not going to run down the court. I'm not going to make any disturbances."
Sister Jean is a lifelong basketball fan. She played in high school and later coached. She knows the game well. And she knows each and every player on the Ramblers' team.
While she hasn't been able to see the team or their coaches in person, she's kept in touch via email and Zoom, leading pre-game prayers and offering support and guidance.
But Sister Jean is also a realist. When Katz asked her how far the Ramblers go in her bracket, she said, "I kept them in the Elite 8," and in the Final Four, she has Gonzaga, Brigham Young, Baylor and West Virginia.
She quickly added she'd be perfectly fine should Loyola go to the top and bust her bracket. In fact, she'd love nothing more than an extended stay in Indy with her Ramblers.