Sixth-grader Sam Holtz correctly predicted the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four in this year’s NCAA tournament. He tied for first place in ESPN’s bracket challenge, beating millions of other brackets. However, since Holtz, who lives near Chicago, is not 18 and entered the contest with his dad’s email address, ESPN has decided he will not be included in a lottery with the other people who came in the top 1 percent of the pool for a chance to win $20,000 and a trip to Maui.
ESPN spokesperson Kevin Ota said that the real prize isn’t money, but glory, and knowing you are better than everyone else. “He beat all of our commentators, all these celebrities, all the college experts,” Ota told the Daily Herald. “That’s what makes this so awesome. The prize really is secondary.”
Holtz didn’t seem to agree, telling the newspaper that the decision “irritated” him. ESPN is apparently putting together some type of prize for the 12-year-old, albeit one that probably doesn’t involve Hawaii.
Although he isn’t eligible for the cash, Holtz and his family have had the chance to make the rounds on radio and television, telling the origin story of the mythical bracket. “I think it was kind of all skill,” Sam told ABC7. “Some people say it’s luck, but I think I studied enough.”
Butch Holtz, Sam’s father, told the station, “I was teasing him the other day, telling him, ‘Will you stop printing those damn brackets? You’re wasting all my ink out of the printer.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. I know what I’m doing. Leave me alone.’ I guess he proved me wrong.”
Sam also got a consolation prize from his mom — getting to stay home from school on Tuesday (although it kind of sounds like he might have wanted to go to school today, of all days, to soak up the admiration of his classmates).
“He wanted to go to school today, but I kept him home because ESPN said they planned to call this morning,” Elizabeth Holtz told the Associated Press. “He wants to go this afternoon, but I told him if Jimmy Kimmel calls, he’s going to have to miss that too.”