Unless you’ve just returned from a part of the world with no Internet access and cable TV, you know that the 49th Ward’s home team, the Loyola Ramblers Men’s Basketball team, stunned and thrilled sports fans everywhere by advancing to the Final Four of the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament.
Driven by grit, teamwork and a coach who inspires the players to believe in themselves (and also, no doubt, some well-placed prayers by the team’s spiritual leader, Sister Jean), the Ramblers have risen to heights no one could have imagined at the start of the season. With the exception of die-hard Michigan Wolverines fans, everyone throughout the sports world will be rooting for the Ramblers when they play this Saturday evening.
In the spirit of this historic moment, I have joined the New 400 Theaters once again in sponsoring a free viewing of the Loyola game on the big screen. Tip-off is Saturday, March 31st, at 5:09 p.m. and the doors will open at 4:30 p.m. The theater is located at 6746 N. Sheridan (just south of Pratt).
Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Food and refreshments will be available for purchase and the theater offers a full bar.
In order to accommodate the ever-growing attendance at these watch parties, the New 400 will be showing the game this time in three theaters. Nonetheless, I advise you to arrive at the theater early to guarantee yourself a seat.
The effect of Loyola’s success transcends the sports world. I would like to share with you a column that appeared on the sports pages of yesterday’s Chicago Tribune.
Sports columnist Steve Rosenbloom reprinted an email he received from Jennifer Clark, who works for Loyola University and lives in Rogers Park. She wrote him in response to a blog post he penned thanking Loyola for “saving sports in Chicago.” Jennifer wrote of the unifying impact of the Ramblers’ achievements on our Rogers Park community.
I’ve reprinted the column below. I urge you to give it a read:
Loyola’s success is unifying people beyond the bobbleheads
By Steve Rosenbloom
I wrote a blog Sunday. The headline read: “Thanks, Loyola: You’re saving sports in Chicago.” It posted the morning after the 11th-seeded Ramblers miraculously and efficiently earned a spot in the NCAA’s Final Four.
My piece was a thank-you note, basically, because Loyola broke brackets, even Sister Jean’s, at a time when fans were rooting for the Bulls and Blackhawks to lose and the baseball teams weren’t playing real games. Meanwhile, the Ramblers were doing nothing but winning. Thanks for filling a void was the point as I wrote “We needed you, Loyola, even though we didn’t know it was going to be you.”
The piece resonated with a lot of people. I heard from them. I’ve seen what a winning team can do to a city’s esteem and fans’ moods. But I did not know the extent that it could affect city blocks in real life until I heard from Jennifer Clark. I choked up by the end. Here’s her email:
Dear Mr. Rosenbloom,
I have worked at Loyola University for 17 years. I started as director of community relations and am currently the Associate VP of Civic Engagement. I cannot stop thinking about your blog post, “Thanks Loyola.”
I am not sure the extent to which you meant for it to reach beyond sports but that is where it hit me. I am responsible for Loyola’s engagement and work with the hyper-local community of Rogers Park. I have had a really rough year and a half.
Rogers Park has taken a lot of emotional hits recently. Trump, violence, threats of public school cuts, fears of gentrification. Our community is incredibly diverse, extremely well-educated, and politically passionate. It is also a home for immigrants and refugees. Our poor and rich live side by side.
After a shooting a couple of months ago that left an immigrant teenager wounded and a middle-aged teacher dead, the community has been fighting hard to figure out how to fix everything.
As Loyola’s liaison I have felt paralyzed. There is an entire Facebook page dedicated to “reconciliation” but the dialogue is divisive and elitist and exclusionary. It’s us vs. them but nobody seems to remember who is us and who is them.
Your line, “We needed you Loyola even though we didn’t know it was going to be you,” hit a nerve.
I knew that Rogers Park needed Loyola but I and my colleagues didn’t know exactly how we could step in. In the world of town-gown relations, few people want the neighborhood University to insert itself into community issues unless invited.
Then, a few days after the Ramblers beat Miami, I stepped into the University Bookstore to a sea of brown-skinned teenagers. I knew immediately it was one of our local high schools. Sullivan High School is one of the poorest schools on the North Side and here they were, in the University bookstore shopping for swag. I knew it then.
It was like Donte Ingram reached through the TV, grabbed a poor kid in at “at-risk” situation and pulled him through the screen, across the court and into college life. It only took one magic three-pointer.
Then I really started noticing the small businesses. The local owner-operated gift shop, ChiTown Magpie, feverishly trying to stay ahead of demand for homemade Loyola Christmas tree ornaments. The neighborhood bar a mile north of campus, R Public House, inviting kids and families for hot dog and beer specials. The independent movie theater, the New 400, offering the games streaming for free on the big screen for people who don’t have cable. I felt the energy rising. All of us on the same page, supporting the Ramblers and supporting our local economy.
I have lost track of the number of community groups that want to invite Sister Jean to speak at their next event. I don’t think Alderman Joe Moore has taken off his Loyola sweatshirt in three weeks!
After each game we can hear cheering and honking in every corner of Rogers Park. After each game Facebook explodes with excitement. It’s so much better than sirens and Facebook frenzy about whether it was gunshots or fireworks.
I don’t know if you were thinking any of this when you said, “We needed you Loyola,” but I was thinking maybe you’d consider taking your story a few steps further. Would you consider writing about how Rogers Park needed Loyola to unify our community and remind us of what is really great about being in a college town?
Even if you don’t write more on the topic, I want to thank you for writing what you did. It was the best Loyola story I read all week because the meaning went deep for me.
No, Jennifer, let me thank you instead for helping people understand the impact this story is having beyond bobblehead sales. One suggestion, however: You need to end all your communications with “Go Ramblers.’’ I think it’s a law or something.
Allow me to thank Jennifer, as well, for her insights and years of commitment to the Rogers Park community.