If a certain class of kindergartners turns out to be correct, this year’s NCAA Tournament bracket will have Kansas written all over it.
The kindergartners’ Final Four: KU, K-State, Wichita State and Virginia.
Their final game: Shockers vs. Jayhawks.
Their winner: WSU, baby!
Don’t tell these Wichita kids not to pick with their hearts.
On Tuesday, we visited with Mari Cunningham’s kindergarten class at Anderson Elementary School in Wichita to get the students’ picks for this year’s tournament.
Sitting crisscross-applesauce on the reading rug, we called out bracket matchups and recorded the students’ picks, majority rules.
Their choices, though sometimes surprising, were loosely based in reason.
For instance, the kids tended to favor schools from places they’d visited, including Texas, New Mexico and Missouri.
“Oooh, Missouri!” Hailey Dixon exclaimed as she threw her vote to Mizzou over Norfolk State in the first round. “I rode a roller coaster there!”
The children also liked teams with cool mascots, including the Temple Owls, the Iowa State Cyclones, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and the Murray State Racers.
They opted for cool- sounding mascots, in fact, even if they weren’t sure what they meant. (What is a Boilermaker, anyway?)
A first-round matchup between Memphis and Saint Louis proved particularly difficult. Because really, how do you choose between a Tiger (super cool) and a Billiken, which apparently is a cartoonish character that looks a lot like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch who stole Christmas?
The class finally went with Memphis. “Because when I go to the zoo, I love the tigers,” said Tierra Webster.
Jalon Humphrey raised his hand high for 10th-seed Xavier over Notre Dame in the first round and later over second-seed Duke because he likes the name Xavier.
“That’s my coach’s name,” Jalon said.
His classmates overruled him on a Xavier-Baylor matchup in the Sweet Sixteen, though, chanting, “Bears! Bears! Bears!”
Everyone loves bears. Jalon just smiled and shook his head.
Several students took the “everyone’s a winner” slogan to heart, voting for both teams in a single game. Or no one at all.
“Vote for one,” Cunningham reminded the children several times during our straw poll. “Marquette? Or Virginia? … Golden Eagles? Or Cavaliers?”
(A related note: We aren’t positive about this, but we think Cunningham may have swayed that vote – and later ones – with some not-so-subtle nodding and smiling and by raising her own hand when she said the word “Virginia.” Turns out the veteran teacher grew up in the South and earned her degree from the University of Virginia.)
The youngsters’ Elite Eight shaped up this way: WSU, Baylor, Michigan State, Virginia (surprise, surprise), K-State, Ohio State, North Carolina and KU.
Final game? KU vs. WSU, with the hometown Shockers taking the title and the teams recording a combined score of somewhere between 10 and 1,000 points.
Cunningham said the students may not be old enough to understand records, rankings, statistics and RPIs. But the passion and festivity surrounding March Madness can still be a learning opportunity.
“We talk a lot about teamwork,” she said. “Kindergarten is all about getting along and working as a team.
“I tell them we’re a team just like the ones on the basketball court, and we have to work together to be successful.”
However their bracket picks shape up, these kids sound like winners.