March 8, 2013

Loyola men's basketball chaplain is full of team spirit

By JODI S. COHEN Chicago Tribune

(Continued from page 1)

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Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt says her pre-game prayer for the Loyola men’s basketball team a week ago in Chicago. Her prayers were answered when the team won its last regular-season game, 87-60, against Cleveland State University before going on the road for the Horizon League playoffs.

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Every team member gets his own version of the email, ending with Schmidt's thoughts on that player's performance.

"She knows exactly what each person did in that game, what we brought to help the team and she reminds us of it," said sophomore Joe Crisman, a guard. "She tells us to keep at it, and that is huge. It means everything."

Last Saturday, Schmidt arrived at Gentile Arena about an hour before game time and didn't stop working the arena until tipoff, circling the court and shaking hands with her fans.

She may not know everybody's name, but they all know hers.

"There she is," referee Tim Fitzgerald said, pointing to Schmidt as he walked onto the floor.

"Sister Jean, we love you!" screamed senior Andrew Gaillardetz.

"She's the center of the men's basketball program," said university provost John Pelissero. "We pay (coach) Porter to do that, but Sister Jean is the inspiration."

Schmidt smiled at the compliments and shook her head, but she was clearly enjoying it.

Frank Biga, 64, a longtime fan with courtside seats, offered Schmidt some pre-game advice.

"The prayer should be more biased," he joked.

To be sure, the Ramblers (15-15) have had a rough year, with injuries sidelining some of their best players. The team started three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior Saturday.

"We need a good prayer tonight," assistant coach Rick Malnati requested before the game.

"A short one," Schmidt replied.

"Short, but powerful," Malnati said.

With 10 minutes until game time, Schmidt stood at the microphone to recite the opening prayer.

"We ask you, Lord, to look favorably on our Ramblers," she said. "May we play with our hearts, our minds, our bodies, remembering to be alert with our eyes on the ball."

With the prayer over, the Rowdies started chanting: "Sis-ter Jean. Sis-ter Jean. Sis-ter Jean."

She turned to them, smiled and gave a thumbs up. Then she took her seat to watch the game.

As affable as she is before the game, she is quiet during it.

She clapped when the Ramblers scored and groaned when they couldn't get a shot off on time. "Oh, Jordan," she said when senior standout Jordan Hicks made a foul. "C'mon, Ben," she said when captain Ben Averkamp readied for a free throw.

But there's no loud cheering or booing from Sister Jean. And of course, there's no cursing when things go wrong. Sometimes she prays silently -- "in my heart," she says -- that nobody gets hurt.

With two minutes left on the clock, and the Ramblers ahead by 20, Schmidt left her seat and watched the final minutes from the tunnel. At the buzzer, she gave two thumbs up and hugged the players as they headed to the locker room.

"The pre-game prayer was a good luck charm," Hicks said to Schmidt at a post-game party. "You were on your game."

"I can pray. You can work," Schmidt said.

And with that, the team's regular season was over. "See you next season," she said as she left the arena.


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