the nun who boxes out

Early on in our marriage, as we were attempting to merge two hearts, households, hedge funds, etc., my spouse came up with a regular saying and reminder. It is one he has long repeated, especially when the going gets tough and the tough get going.

He simply says, “We’re on the same team.” It’s simple. But also true and profound.

There’s something beautiful about recognizing we’re all on the same team — where we root together for what’s bigger, instead of divisively getting lost, forgetting we’re all in this life together.

As I watch the seemingly big, 2018 NCAA basketball tournament come to a close, I have found something that reminds me of the bigger. We are not truly divided into Jayhawk, Rambler, Wildcat, or Wolverine fans. We are all, simply fans.

Sister Jean, the spunky 98 year old chaplain of Loyola Chicago’s men’s basketball team, reminds us of that. Her words and presence remind us of what’s bigger…

“Things turn out well when you work as a team, when you share the ball and you’re so kind to each other. And when you really like each other. That’s what happens with these young men, they really like each other.”

“They’re having what I call fun on the court. If you don’t have fun when you’re playing, you’re not relaxed enough to get the ball into the basket.”

And in response to a question asking if she’s the difference in regard to the Ramblers’ newfound success, “Oh, no. God’s been the difference and the young men.”

I love it. Here in a world that daily comes up with new ways to divide themselves, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt reminds us of what’s bigger.

Look at how these impressionable young Loyola players respond…

From Marques Townes, “Her presence and her aura, when you see her — it’s just like the world is just great because just her spirit and her faith in us and Loyola basketball and just her being around.”

Said Donte Ingram, “She’s like another coach. [In my first ever game], 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.’”

And said guard Clayton Custer, “For her to be doing what she’s doing at her age, it’s amazing, and it’s inspiring. And I think, I mean, I think her prayers definitely mean a little bit extra when she prays for us.”

Interestingly, many in the sports media have recently run stories discussing how in the wake of the scandals hitting college basketball, we’ve been in need of a “feel good” story. As so editorialized by The Guardian Weekly:

“… If you wanted to hope for a spiritually redemptive script for college basketball to follow, one could do worse than a series of games in which the sinning teams were punished and the lower seeds inherited the later rounds.

If you were to write this story, filled with unlikely game-winning moments that we reflexively call ‘miracles,’ why wouldn’t you include a basketball-obsessed nun helping her team achieve improbable victories? You don’t have to be religious in the slightest to understand that it would make a fantastic story if Loyola somehow made it the Final Four – or beyond – under Sister Jean’s watch.

For what it’s worth, even Sister Jean thinks that this is unlikely. After Loyola’s defeat of Tennessee she admitted that she only had them going to the Sweet Sixteen in her bracket, not any further.

She knows, as we all do, that sporting events aren’t morality plays. Still, a part of us wants to believe: even a staunch atheist will often lapse into talk of faith and belief when it comes to their team. That’s a big reason why Sister Jean has resonated so strongly with fans. She represents the pure and good in a game that is so often corrupt.”

Thank you, Sister Jean, for reminding us of something bigger.