Ted Lasso: A Connected Foundation

In December 2022, the 50th reunion of the Class of 1970 was finally in full swing. After multiple rescheduled dates over the intervening two years due to COVID-19, attendees were even more thrilled at the chance to reconnect with their classmates and celebrate such a big milestone together.

As the night wore on, the women shared stories about their lives: their careers, their families, their travels; they reminisced about their time at Mother McAuley, laughing at fond memories and shared experiences; and inevitably, talked about their current interests: favorite hobbies, books, movies… and TV shows.

At the mention of one show, sisters Gina Reynolds ‘70 and Sheila Reynolds Trainor ‘70, and Loretta Wendt Jolivette ‘70 found out they have something unique in common - their nephews are both stars and creators of the popular Apple TV+ show, Ted Lasso.

Pictured left to right: Sheila Reynolds Trainor ‘70, Loretta Wendt Jolivette ‘70, Gina Reynolds ‘70 at their 50th reunion.

Pictured left to right: Sheila Reynolds Trainor ‘70, Loretta Wendt Jolivette ‘70, Gina Reynolds ‘70 at their 50th reunion.

A Shared Background

Jason Sudeikis, who stars as the title character, Ted Lasso, and Brendan Hunt, who portrays Coach Beard, have strong ties to Chicago. They first met and became friends during their time at The Second City, and, despite Jason growing up in Kansas City, they both have close family in Chicago - many of whom are Mother McAuley alumnae.

Jason and Brendan were both raised by McAuley women - their mothers, Kathy Wendt Sudeikis ‘64 and Martha Reynolds Thomas ‘70, respectively.

Sudeikis family pictured left to right: Kristin, Lindsay, Dan, Jason, Kathy ‘64

Kathy - whose sisters, Loretta Wendt Jolivette ‘70, Marti Wendt Doherty ‘71 and Nancy Wendt Healy ‘72, all attended Mother McAuley - has been a leader in the world’s travel industry for more than 45 years. Today, she is the Vice President of Corporate Relations for Acendas, a $200 million travel company in suburban Kansas City. In 2017, she was inducted into the McAuley Hall of Honor.

Reynolds sisters pictured left to right: Martha, Sheila, and Gina

Martha is a triplet with Gina Reynolds ‘70 and Sheila Reynolds Trainor ‘70. Her sisters Tracy Reynolds Aleksy ‘68 and Molly Reynolds ‘72 graduated from McAuley, as well, due in large part to their mother, Sheila Taaffe Reynolds SXA ‘39. Sheila attended McAuley’s predecessor, Saint Xavier Academy, from first grade through college, and was inducted into the McAuley Hall of Honor in 2013.

Sadly, Martha passed away in 2016, but we had the chance to sit down with Kathy and Gina to talk about their lives and the serendipitous connection between their two families.

McAuley Hall of Honor Inductees

Both Kathy Wendt Sudeikis '64, Jason's mother, and Sheila Taaffe Reynolds SXA ‘39, Brendan's grandmother, have been inducted into the McAuley Hall of Honor. 

Read Kathy's McAuley Hall Bio

Read Sheila's McAuley Hall Bio

“The family we’re born with, and the family we make along the way”

(Kelly et al., 2021)

Connection is at the very heart of human nature, and Ted Lasso manages to beautifully illustrate how people flourish and become the best versions of themselves through authentic relationships.

For the writers and producers of the show, this began at an early age with the family they were born into. Throughout the course of our conversation, Gina and Kathy shared many insights into their large families and the strong bond that connects them to this day. Their anecdotes tell stories not without strife, but full of humor and love.

And then, there’s the family we make along the way. “They have chosen each other, and their loyalty to each other is incredible,” Kathy shares about Jason, Brendan, and the third creator of the show, Joe Kelly. “My brother, George (who is best known for playing Norm in the show, Cheers), told Jason to ‘pick the people that know you best, and work with them.’ And at Second City, it’s all about trust. Improv in general is always ‘and,’ not ‘but,’ and you invite the other person in. So you trust that person completely. And when they go to a TV series or they go to another opportunity, they’re constantly saying, ‘I’ve got people who could play that role. I’ve got somebody who can write.’”

And that’s what they did. The character of Ted Lasso was first introduced in 2013 during a series of commercials for NBC Sports to promote the English Premier League in the U.S. Jason had pulled in his friends Brendan and Joe to create the concept for the commercial, and the three were inspired to put together a story and a script based off the character. The rest is history.

This idea of trusting other people, supporting and advocating for other people, is an essential underlying theme of the show. It’s one reason the show has been so successful - this beautiful example of connection resonates with people across generations. Learning how this message was influenced by their personal lives makes the show that much more compelling.

Watch the NBC Sports commercial on YouTube

Everything has an Intention

Given how the idea of “connection” transfers seamlessly from real life to the world of Ted Lasso, it’s no surprise to learn that the series is full of nods to the creators’ families, their friends, and moments in their personal lives.

Some are small Easter eggs - in season 2, episode 5, an autographed photo of Jason’s uncle, George Wendt, can be seen hanging on the wall of a restaurant, next to an autographed photo of Roy Kent, one of the fictional football players - while others are larger tributes.

Many of the players’ names recognize friends and family, including a player in season one, Martin De Maat, who is named after Brendan and Jason’s teacher and the artistic director of The Second City during their time there. The team travels to Amsterdam in season three, an episode which pays homage to their time working at one of the city’s comedy clubs, Boom Chicago. Gina also shared that Brendan’s son made an appearance in an episode, passing by Ted in a stroller.

Pictured: Sudeikis family including Jason’s children Otis and Daisy

Kathy shared one moment in particular that was significant for her. In season 2, episode 10, there’s a funeral and Jason’s character, Ted, arrives late. He chooses to sit in the last pew on the right side, which isn’t even worth noticing for most people. But the last pew on the right is where Kathy’s mom could be found every Sunday for Mass. The whole parish knew to expect her there, and when all of the family would be in from out of town for Christmas, they would all sit together in that back row. “That was such a nod to Nana and the south side,” Kathy said. “It’s little things, you either know the inside story, or not.”

Pictured left to right: Brendan Hunt and Martha Reynolds Thomas ‘70

When asked if they thought any of the characters were inspired by real people, both Gina and Kathy felt that, coming from such large families, it’s probably a combination of people and traits that would have played a part in the creation of the show’s characters. They could, though, pinpoint the inspiration for Ted’s mustache - a clear replica of the mustache his father sports. Coach Beard is always reading, a characteristic Gina shares is true to Brendan himself. Gina also shared stories of Brendan’s mother, Martha, who had a mischievous nature and was always good for a laugh. She would often pretend to be Gina when answering the phone - this playful humor has made its way onto the show.

Kathy also shared, “I would guess that having a strong female character as his adversary [in season one] is definitely reflective of a McAuley girl. As I said when I was blessed to get inducted into McAuley Hall, we were the generation that talked back… I saluted the husbands for accepting us… It was unusual for the wife to have her own position and her own standing, and that of course is the tradition that the all-girls school creates for you.”

“It goes back to not needing a ‘yes man’ as your spouse, and letting the female strength show through,” she continues. “Cause you know, we’re caught between strength and being ‘bossy’ and ‘aggressive’ and all of that kind of stuff, so there’s a subtle touch to that. I think Hannah Wadingham [who plays Rebecca Welton] represents that type of a female pretty darn well.”

“Write what you know”

This advice from Mark Twain is often quoted, and perhaps for good reason. In the case of Ted Lasso, drawing inspiration from past experiences, incorporating so many salutes to the people and places who have gotten them to where they are, building off of the foundation that has made them, is what makes the show successful. It feels real and relatable.

In this issue of Inscape, there are stories and examples of how McAuley builds champions of athletics, of sportsmanship, of empathy, of self-determination, of giving back and showing up for others; many of the same themes found in Ted Lasso. The foundations that are built here give our students and alumnae the tools and skills to succeed no matter the situation - even if they find themselves coaching soccer in the English premier league with all odds against them.

Citations: Kelly, J. (Writer) & Lowney, D. (Director). (2021, August 13). Carol of the Bells (Season 2, Episode 4) [TV series episode]. Ruby’s Tuna; Universal Television; Doozer; Warner Bros. Television.

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