March Madness is a time for Cinderella stories and breakout stars. 2018 was no different.
With hundreds of elite athletes at the top of their game, a 98-year-old nun rose above the rest, capturing America’s heart en route to a Final Four appearance for the Loyola Chicago Ramblers. Sister Jean joins a group of super fans who are not bashful about sporting their school spirit.
With the 2022 tournament underway, check out some of the most iconic super fans in March Madness history:
Sister Jean, Loyola Chicago
Sister Jean needs no introduction. At 98, she headlined a Loyola team that became the darling of the 2018 tournament, complete with three straight buzzer-beaters and a frontcourt duo of childhood best friends. With each improbable win, Sister Jean’s celebrity stock rose, even having bobbleheads made in her image. She maintains that her primary role is to offer prayerful guidance, but she isn’t above tossing in the occasional scouting report.
Four years and a pandemic later, Sister Jean is on the other side of 100 and still the ever-fervent Ramblers fan. The nun can still be seen sitting courtside and will once again be joining the team as they take on Ohio State in the first round on Friday.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Northwestern
The “Seinfeld” and “Veep” star attended Northwestern, but her status as captain of the celebrity fan club was solidified in 2017 when her son, Charlie, was part of the team that made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
Ashley Judd, Kentucky
Drake might have tried to co-op the Wildcats, but longtime college basketball fans know actress Ashley Judd is the president of Big Blue Nation.
Judd was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Kentucky, where she stayed for college, graduating from the University Honors Program. As a Wildcat alumna, Judd continues to put her school pride on full display, frequently seen in the crowd sporting her blue and white.
Father Rob, Villanova
2018 was the year of the clergy at March Madness. While Sister Jean stole the show, Villanova -- the eventual tournament champions -- had a spiritual supporter of its own.
Father Rob Hagan slowly gained his own following as the Wildcats worked their way through the bracket and won their third championship. He took over in 2004 and has been alongside head coach Jay Wright through two titles, a bond that was on full display after the Wildcats punched their ticket to the third Final Four in San Antonio.
Father Hagan never did end up facing off with Sister Jean as Loyola was eliminated in the other semifinal, but he joked that 16 years of Catholic education taught him to “respect the nuns.” He might have to put that rule to the test soon as the 2022 bracket pits the Wildcats and Ramblers against each other in the second round if both teams advance.
Ryan Gesas, UCLA
Gesas is the only college student to make the list. Except here’s the kicker, he doesn’t go to UCLA. In fact, he doesn’t even go to school in California. Gesas grew up in the San Fernando Valley before moving over 2,000 miles away to attend the University of Indiana for film school. Not even the Hoosiers, a school with no shortage of rich basketball traditions, could shake Gesas' loyalty to the Bruins.
The No. 11 Bruins entered the 2021 tournament as an unlikely contender, having to advance through the First Four round just to make it to the round of 64. Gesas initially planned on buying tickets himself, but after the prices skyrocketed to $600 he did what any resourceful college student in the digital era would do -- tweet the UCLA basketball account. Noticing that the First Four game against Michigan State would be held in West Lafayette, Ind. -- a distinct advantage for the Spartans -- Gesas offered to serve as UCLA’s designated cheering section in exchange for tickets.
By a stroke of luck, UCLA athletics director Martin Jarmond saw the tweet and took him up on his offer, providing two tickets for Gesas and a friend. This began a six-game journey for Gesas and the Bruins as they mounted one of the most iconic Cinderella runs in recent history, with the IU student along for the ride. Like any good fan with a healthy dose of superstition, Gesas established a uniform -- gray sweatpants, yellow undershirt and a throwback Russell Westbrook jersey.
Call it magic or luck, because the Bruins returned to the Final Four for the first time since 2008 and ultimately lost in heartbreaking fashion to Gonzaga on a Jalen Suggs buzzer-beater in overtime.
Gesas remains a staple of the Bruins fanbase, popping up at games throughout the season including the Pac-12 Tournament. Still active on twitter, Gesas gave his fans a preview of his plans for March with the ominous Westbrook jersey ready to be worn.