12-Year-Old Illinois Boy Tied for Best NCAA Bracket in ESPN's Tournament Challenge

Sam Holtz says he entered the ESPN contest with his dad's email and consent.

ByABC News
April 7, 2015, 1:11 PM

— -- Out of the 11.5 million entries in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge to pick the winner of the 2015 NCAA men's basketball championship, it appears a 12-year-old boy may have outsmarted them all.

Sam Holtz, a sixth-grader from Lake Zurich, Illinois, is tied for first place on the EPSN.com leaderboard with 1,830 points, having correctly picked Duke as the tournament winner.

“It feels really, like, exciting and I feel pretty cool right now for winning it because it’s a really hard thing to do,” Sam told ABC News after watching the Duke Blue Devils defeat the Wisconsin Badgers 68-63 on Monday night.

Sam watched the game at his home with family and friends and was tackled by his middle-school buddies when the game ended, giving both Sam and Duke a victory.

“I didn’t really pay attention to my bracket until the Final Four when I went on my phone and realized, ‘Woah, I’m in sixth place,” Sam told ABC News. “Then I zoned into those games and realized, ‘Hey, I have a chance here.’”

Sam’s place atop the leaderboard would normally automatically qualify him for the contest’s grand prize, a $20,000 Best Buy gift card and a trip for two to the Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament in Hawaii next November -- prizes valued in total at $29,950.

The Tournament Challenge, however, has a minimum age requirement of 18 years. Sam entered the Challenge using an email address that belongs to his dad, Butch Holtz, with his dad’s consent, he said.

“I was just talking to ESPN and they said that I’m underage and can’t get any of the prize and they’re going to send some goodies even though I entered under my dad’s consent, which I’m pretty irritated about,” Sam told ABC News.

“For ESPN, I came in first and this was a rare thing that you can rarely get and I still don’t get anything and I think I deserve something out of it,” Sam said. “Even if I just get an Xbox or something.”

ESPN will choose the grand prize winner in a randomly selected drawing among the top 1 percent of “eligible point scorers” in the contest, according to ESPN.com. The winner is set to be announced Thursday.

An ESPN spokesman confirmed the process of picking a winner to ABC News but did not confirm how the network plans to handle the prize should Sam’s username be chosen in the drawing.

In the meantime, Sam said his family -- which also includes his mom, Elizabeth, and an older brother, Joey -- is “really excited” for him and “surprised” that he came out atop the leaderboard.

Sam said he watches college basketball only when his favorite teams -- Notre Dame, University of California at Irvine and Michigan State -- are playing but begins to really focus on the sport “just before” the brackets come out, going online and reading the newspaper to check players’ stats.

He then follows the same advice he today gave to others hoping to one day win just their office March Madness pool, much less the entire ESPN Tournament Challenge.

“Just pick the team that you like and pick whoever you want,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in March Madness so just pick teams that you really like.”

Sam also has a message for the Duke University Blue Devils who helped him win a championship too.

“I’d say congratulations to them for winning the championship and to Coach K for doing a great job coaching this season,” he said.

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