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March madness takes over

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t’s been hailed a “national pastime” by sports reporters and even has a presence in the White House. It hosts losers and winners on and off the courts and has millions tuned in to sports on TV if even just for the course of three weeks as 68 eventually becomes one. It’s March Madness time.

Captivating both casual and avid sports fans for decades, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — coined “March Madness” by Bob Walsh in 1984 and now trademarked by the NCAA — brings an extra element of fun in it’s basketball brackets and pools, seen at nearly every office and household across the United States.

It’s nothing more than a bracket of names for some, and as precious as basketball gold for others. Seasoned vets and young rookies watch and see how far their teams can go for a little bit of extra cash and the ultimate bragging rights, with ESPN reporting 147.57 quintillion possibilities and roughly 6.45 million people partaking in the bracketology this year on alone.

“March Madness is on an entirely different level than any other college tournament,” said Matt Burton, a student at Central Lakes College who filled out ten brackets this year, each with different outcomes. “There’s just something about the excitement of a team playing in this once-in-a-lifetime tournament, especially for those teams that make it in for the first time.

“You just never know what can happen.”

And upsets in the process of dwindling teams out are almost a guarantee. This year’s bracket busters have seen top-seeded teams like Michigan, Missouri and Duke flop to the dismay of those hoping to see the teams be crowned this years champs and to the enjoyment of those looking to see a 2012 Cinderella story.

There really is little method to the madness when it comes to bracketology.

“Each member of our family has a different method to filling out a bracket,” said Kris Peterson who along with her husband, daughter, two sons and their friends, go in to a “March Madness craze” each year the big dance rolls around. “Dave (dad) looked at the conference competition that each team was up against and made that a key consideration as opposed to focusing just on overall season records and picked Louisville to go all the way.

“I looked at where each team was from and mostly picked based on where I would want to visit. When it got down to the final games I thought Gonzaga had a nice ring to it — who wouldn’t want a team with the name Gonzaga to go far? — and Duke is the middle name of McCale’s friend Zach, so I picked Duke to win it all because Zach is a great kid.

“Reilly (15) had no real rhyme or reason to her picks, only that she had Purdue picked to go all the way last year and holds onto hope for them this year. Plus we think she enjoys saying ‘PUR-due’ with the wrong enunciation just to drive us all crazy.

“McCale (12), our bracket master and scorekeeper, looked at the teams and their records and made his picks based on who was on a roll. He has Kentucky the final winner and keeps our bracket stats so we all know where we stand.

“And Broc (10) said he just guessed on all his picks and hopes Louisville takes it all.”

Peterson, who lives with her family in Brainerd, said that there is no financial wager on their brackets just bragging right which she added, “in our house is better than money.” But when an ultimate prize of million dollars is factored in is when the real madness begins.

“ESPN lets you fill out ten brackets so I make sure to fill them all out, mostly because online it’s so easy, too,” said Burton, who joined the millions online in an effort to win the national million dollar prize. “And then we’ve got a $20 fee in another bracket I do with my buddies and with ten of us we’re looking at a good chunk of change for the winner.”

The Brainerd Dispatch even joined the madness this year, creating its own March Mayhem contest, offering two different options of play. The first time in four years the Dispatch is putting on the contest, ‘March Mayhem’ lets people choose between playing in a round-by-round option — allowing them to re-pick each new round should their team be ousted at any time — or in the traditional up-front bracket. Currently 96 people are hoping to gain points in the round-by-round option, while 49 are looking towards the national million dollar winnings in the up-front bracket. In addition, the Dispatch is inviting all participants out to Shep’s on April 2, the night of the National Championship game, from 7-10 p.m. for prizes, game viewing and an all-around good time.

And whether you’ve given up on your bracket that you poured all of you sports knowledge in to, or you’ve squeaked by on luck, it’s always about the fun of the game.

“I like it (March Madness) when it comes around,” said Burton, “but year-after-year of losing, I don’t miss it when it’s gone.”

JESSI PIERCE may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).