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How an old shirt, and this Loyola team, brought me closer to my dad

Jack Rooney wore this good-luck shirt, which belonged to his late father, John, throughout this year's NCCA Tournament as he rooted for the Loyola Ramblers. | Provided

The clock struck midnight for the Ramblers Saturday night, which means I can finally wash the maroon Loyola long-sleeve T-shirt I wore for each tournament game.

Before it was my lucky tournament shirt, I usually wore it to bed. The well-worn cotton and hole in the shirt’s wrist make it perfect for sleeping. For the sake of superstition, though, I pressed it into daylight service for March Madness.

Before the shirt was mine, it belonged to my dad, John. He would have loved every second of Loyola’s Cinderella run in this year’s NCAA tournament.

He died in June 2016 at age 56 after a roughly three-year battle with ALS. Before he got sick, he spent 27 years as a reporter for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He was also a proud Loyola alumnus and shared that love for his alma mater with my two brothers and me.

Maroon blood runs through my family. My grandpa, Ed Rooney, taught at Loyola after his reporting career with the Chicago Daily News, and my dad and his five siblings all went to school there. Forgive me, Sister Jean, I went to Notre Dame.

My younger brother, Dan, is a junior at Loyola now. I’ve seen firsthand how the university has shaped my family members into kind, caring, compassionate and faithful people.

Dan Rooney, now a Loyola junior, poses with Loyola alumnus John Rooney, who died of ALS in 2016. | Provided photo

The Ramblers’ magical tournament run was especially meaningful for me this year. I recently moved away from Chicago to begin my own journalism career, and watching Loyola’s tournament games in my new home of Wooster, Ohio, brought me closer to my dad than I have been in a long time.

I watched Loyola’s final two games by myself in a bar, but in my mind my dad was sitting right next to me. His old shirt lent a tangible presence to the whole experience, and with every Clayton Custer 3-pointer and Donte Ingram rebound, I could hear his voice in my head, cheering away.

The Rooney family pulled together when John Rooney was diagnosed with ALS. John and wife Meg Rooney flanked by sons (L-R) Dan, Ned, and Jack. | Brother Rice photo

His voice resonated particularly strongly after Saturday’s Final Four loss. He would have been disappointed that the Ramblers fell short, but I’m sure he would have taken the loss with the grace and wisdom that, to me, defined his personality. He would have been quick to note that baseball season has just begun, and his beloved White Sox are a team on the rise. And he’d already be excited for the 2018-2019 Ramblers.

I’ve seen a lot of people online thanking Loyola for such a fun, miraculous tournament run. Some have thanked the Ramblers for bringing Illinois college basketball back to the national stage and for giving Chicago a team it will never forget.

I have to thank this team for even more — for helping me grow even closer to my dad, who even in death remains with me through old clothes, a passion for journalism and a deep love for Loyola Ramblers basketball.

Beverly native Jack Rooney, 23, is a breaking news reporter for The Daily Record in Wooster, Ohio.