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Is your NCAA Tournament bracket better than a first grader’s?

Local boy, CHOP patient, my son Max has a challenge: Can you beat him?

The NCAA Tournament is unpredictable. Upsets happen all the time, which is what makes March Madness so much fun. It’s also what makes trying to fill out a bracket so maddening, because no matter how much research you’re going to do this year, undoubtedly your sleeper to get to the Elite 8 is going to get knocked out in the first round.

So go ahead and pencil Villanova in to win another title. Chances are you’ll be wrong. The last national champion to even get back to the Final Four, let alone repeat as tourney winners, was Florida in 2007. The last time a title winning team got back to the Final Four before that was 2001, when Michigan State did it.

Since Duke won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, the team that won the title has made it back to the Final Four just four times. In 25 years. So…how confident are you in your bracket now? Is your bracket, say, better than a first grader’s?

Every year since before she turned 2, Zoe Levy has filled out a bracket. Five years ago, before he was 2, her little brother Max started filling out a bracket, too. Max is in first grade now, so the days of picking Thomas the Train and Snoopy in his Final Four are long gone. Now he picks teams that sound like the bathroom.

Zoe, in fourth grade, goes with mostly chalk, picking Villanova to win the title this year over Kansas. Both their brackets, and a good number of their friends’, are part of a local charity challenge in conjunction with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Not only do the kids fill out brackets, but they also put their (read: our) money where their picks are.

When Max was 9 months old he was diagnosed with hemophilia, a serious bleeding disorder that prevents his blood from clotting. It was then he became a patient at CHOP and, to raise awareness for hemophilia, we started to donate $100 for every team Max got right in his Final Four. (Snoopy didn’t make it that year.)

ironmax-shirt

Since then, Max has become a bit of a celebrity in the bleeding disorder community, appearing on local news and national programs like Good Morning America and the NBC Nightly News after Zoe created a charity to raise money for kids like Max.

Zoe, Max and their friends take photos each year to make a calendar under the name Hearts 4 Hemophilia. All the photos are taken by kids, and they go door-to-door and set up local events to sell them. In two years, the kids have raised more than $15,000 for CHOP and other Hemophilia charities.

Max is also a super hero. (Note: Every dad says that about his kids, but he’s actually a super hero.) Marvel Comics heard about Max’s story when he had to have a port inserted in his chest — we were calling him Iron Max, so he could feel like Iron Man — at CHOP a few years ago. Marvel had Iron Max “meet” Iron Man, by putting him into an issue of Invincible Iron Man. So, yeah, he’s a real life hero.

max-marquez

Today, he’s also a Bracketologist.

Max and Zoe picked their 2017 NCAA brackets this year and they’re actually pretty darn good. Zoe has Villanova beating Kansas in the title game, with Arizona and Kentucky making the Final Four.

Max, predictably, has Butler in the Final Four. He likes to say “Butt” without getting in trouble. He also picked Louisville because he heard this year that “the loo” means the bathroom in England. So there’s that.

Max's 2017 bracket

Max's 2017 bracket

Ultimately Max went with Maryland over Duke — “Dukie” — and the Terps topping Louisville in the title game. His uncle went to Maryland.

Zoe's 2017 bracket

Zoe's 2017 bracket

Zoe went local.

We’re still donating $100 for every team Max gets in his Final Four to CHOP, and this year Zoe and all their calendar friends are part of the charity drive too, as we’re donating additional money for every Final Four team the kids in our bracket challenge get right.

As part of March’s Bleeding Disorder Awareness Month, you can sign up to be a part of our group at Hearts4Hemophilia.org/brackets. Trust me, coming from someone who writes about sports for a living and has NEVER won his bracket pool, it’s not easy.

To learn more about Iron Max, and about hemophilia, visit Hearts4Hemophilia.org. Good luck with your brackets.

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