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Max Kohll is 11, his favorite subject is math, and his fifth-grade gut tells him that the North Carolina Tar Heels are going to win it all this year.
Max is so sure about the Tar Heels he didn't want to let this insight go to waste — so the blossoming entrepreneur decided to organize his own NCAA tourney pool at Columbian Elementary in west Omaha this week.
Fill out your brackets, Max told his friends. Bring your $5 entry fee to school. Winner gets half the pot, and second and third split the rest.
Max was so sure of success that he hit up his mom, Janet Kohll, for a $5 loan to pay his own entry fee.
No biggie, Max thought. I'm going to win this thing, I can pay her back, and I won't have to work off the loan by scooping up Riley the dog's droppings in the backyard.
Easy money. A little NCAA tournament entertainment for his buddies. No dog poo.
What could possibly go wrong?
That's what Max asked himself Tuesday morning, when he made the long, slow march to the principal's office.
It turns out that Principal Kathy Nelson, using interrogative powers that Max has not deciphered, somehow figured out that Max had brackets and $10 hidden in his locker.
It turns out that Columbian Elementary is not run like the vast majority of the nation's office buildings, where conversation around the proverbial water cooler this week centers on crucial matters like Belmont's upset chances against Georgetown.
It turns out that "you can't gamble in school," Max says. "It's not OK to gamble. It's like, illegal, sort of."
Max got off light, he thinks — Principal Nelson let him off with a stern talking-to and a promise never to do it again. Later, she came to his classroom and lectured his class.
Principal Nelson also picked up the phone and dialed Janet Kohll, a stay-at-home mom of five children who has gotten her share of principal phone calls.
Oh, no, what did he do? Kohll asked.
The principal told her.
Then Kohll admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she knew Max had organized an NCAA tournament pool.
Max may be a bit of a gambler, but he's no liar. When he borrowed the $5, his mom asked him, "Who is holding the money?" He replied: "Me."
"I didn't even blink!" Janet Kohll said Tuesday. "I make sure I don't send plastic knives to school in his backpack. I never thought about gambling."
Thus ended the very short and ultimately unsuccessful bookie career of Max Kohll, he swears.
Oh, don't get him wrong — Max is still going to put his hunch about North Carolina to good use.
He has entered the entirely free and entirely legal Kohll family pool, organized by Max's 8-year-old youngest brother, Leo.
Both Mom and Dad — that would be David Kohll, co-owner of Kohll's Pharmacy — have filled out brackets. So have four of the five kids. Only Anna, the oldest and a UNO swimmer, has yet to make her picks.
"My youngest boy asked, 'When is Anna coming home from college?'" Janet Kohll says. "I thought he missed his big sister."
Max is pretty sure he's going to take down his 9-year-old brother, Jack.
Jack loves the underdogs.
"He has Virginia winning against N.C. State!" Max says.
What Max is not yet sure of is what he's going to do with his entry fee. (He already reimbursed the one buddy who had paid into the pool.)
Max might give the $5 back to his mom. Or maybe he'll just head out to the backyard and scoop that dog poo.
It doesn't matter — what matters is that Indiana is going to take out Kentucky in a mammoth Sweet 16 upset, Max thinks. The Baylor Bears and Florida State Seminoles, flying under the radar, are going to reach the Final Four.
And in the final, it's North Carolina over Michigan State, Max says.
Take it to the bank. Just don't tell Principal Nelson.
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