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Column: Cheer For (Our) Loyola — March as a Third-Generation Rambler

Lu Calzada | The PhoneixLu Calzada and her mom at the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio.

Among the countless items sold at the 2018 Final Four, there was one that caught my attention — a shirt with big bold letters reading “I was born a Ramblers fan.” I saw it hanging in that little shop by the San Antonio River Walk three years ago, when I was just a high school senior two months from graduation, and I knew I had to have it.

Millions of people began to learn about Loyola, a Chicago mid-major school for the first time during the 2018 Cinderella run. I, however, wasn’t one of them. As a third-generation Loyola student, I was in fact born a Ramblers fan.

My mom graduated from Loyola in 1991 after being a student during the official mascot change, and my aunt followed shortly behind in 1996. My grandfather — boasting objectively the best story in my family — graduated in 1963. When I was committing to Loyola during my senior year of high school, he told me about how exciting it was to be on campus during the Ramblers’ only NCAA men’s basketball championship win.

So, understandably, we watched that 2018 Loyola team from the very beginning of the tournament, with my mom and I even making the four-hour drive from Dallas to San Antonio to watch the ‘Blers in person. My mom called her college best friend every weekend and excitedly talked about how the whole country was going to know about their little school. My grandpa bragged about his 1963 alumni status to all his friends. 

And now, in my junior year, I have the chance to carve out a third generation of Loyola history.

Being a Loyola basketball fan has been a shared experience in my family in the years since the Final Four, with all of us coming together to follow the team every season. I find this exceptionally amusing considering 2018 was the first time any of us had ever attended a Loyola sporting event in person.

Lu Calzada with her mom and grandfather in 2015.

Fast-forward to this season, I’ve gotten calls from my mom after games to give me her and my grandma’s thoughts on the Ramblers’ performances. Many of my days at Gentile Arena have begun with texts from my aunts saying “Go Ramblers!!” And, of course, there was the excitement from all my relatives when Loyola won the 2021 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament, putting them back in March Madness.

Even if I don’t know how long the team will last, there’s definitely a special feeling that’s come with having a March Madness appearance during my time as a student. It’s also even more fun getting to be one of the sports editors through it all, even if I have to watch from home due to COVID-related restrictions on in-person media.

There’s also a lot of talk about what’s going to happen to Loyola in this year’s run — especially in terms of the potential second round matchup between the Ramblers and No. 1-seeded University of Illinois. I’ve even seen some tweets and predictions in which Loyola doesn’t even make it past Georgia Tech. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to cover another Cinderella run like my predecessors in 2018. But in the 62 years since my grandpa started as a Loyola student, the team has only made seven NCAA Tournament appearances. I’d be lying if I said just making it into the tournament wasn’t a highlight of my year. 

So, as I write up my last few stories and study the stats before the first matchup, I’m thinking about how fun it’s been to share these experiences with my relatives, and how excited I am to potentially make some more memories. Although my grandpa passed in 2019, my grandma often says he’s up in heaven, putting in a good word to help the Ramblers win. 

We’ll see how far he can take us.

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