A sixth-grade boy from Hawthorn Woods completed a near-perfect bracket predicting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, finishing in a tie for first in ESPN’s massive annual contest.
Sam Holtz said ESPN officials told him that is he ineligible to claim the top prize — a $20,000 gift card and a trip to the Maui Invitational basketball tournament — because he’s 12 years old. ESPN requires participants to be at least 18.
“I’m irritated,” Holtz told the Daily Herald. “Yes, I’m still proud of my accomplishment, but I’m not happy with the decision.”
Finishing with the best bracket does not equal an automatic claim to the prize. ESPN awards the prize through a random draw of the brackets that were among the top 1 percent in the contest — about 115,700 this year. Kevin Ota, a spokesman for ESPN Digital Media, said the network is putting together some kind of prize for Holtz.
“We plan to have fun with this,” Ota said Tuesday. “The great thing is that this kid beat all these experts out there.”
The tournament includes 67 games and Holtz missed only six. He was perfect picking games played in the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four. Out of 11.5 million who entered a bracket on ESPN’s website, Sam finished tied for first with 1,830 points after Duke beat Wisconsin 68-63 in Monday’s championship game. He entered 10 brackets in the contest.
“There is no secret,” said Holtz, who attends Lake Zurich Middle School North. “There was some luck, and I studied ESPN.com. I just picked the teams that I felt had the best players.”
His mother, Elizabeth, kept him home from school Tuesday.
”He wanted to go to school today, but I kept him home because ESPN said they planned to call this morning,” she said. “He wants to go this afternoon, but I told him if Jimmy Kimmel calls, he’s going to have to miss that too.”