Back on March 1, Diana Inch couldn’t have told you that Kemba Walker of Connecticut or Matt Howard of Butler were All-Americans, or that Kentucky’s lineup featured three freshman, or that Virginia Commonwealth’s coach was only 33.
By the day before March Madness officially set in, Inch did know the mascots of all 68 teams. And it was that knowledge, ahead of any statistical or analytical expertise, that brought her what she called “my 15 minutes of fame.”
A librarian at Jefferson High School for the past nine years, Inch used her own unique formula to correctly predict the Final Four teams — UConn, Butler, VCU and Kentucky — in the Yahoo! Tourney Pick ’Em online contest. She was the only one out of about 3 million entrants to get all four.
“I found out Wednesday,” said Inch, 44, who admits having little knowledge of what went on during the regular season. “I was kind of mocking serious bracket pickers.”
Inch’s formula included her favorite numbers and team mascots. She titled her entry Di’s 711 XV Cats & Dogs. In the first round she picked the No. 7 and 11 seeds in almost every round. In ensuing rounds she picked according to team mascots, leaning to those with cats or dogs.
“I have watched the games on my computer,” Inch said. “I’m as surprised as anyone that I got the Final Four.”
Her standing in the contest isn’t quite so strong. Yahoo will award $5,000 to the person who picks the most wins in the tournament. She sits in 781st place, having selected 34 winning teams in the 60 games played. The current leader has picked 47 of 60.
It doesn’t matter to Inch, who coaches girls soccer at Jefferson. It was all about the fun.
Her method hasn’t gone unnoticed by other more-dedicated, and apparently bitter, prognosticators.
“I’m taking some flak on message boards,” she said. “But I’m more excited that it’s shedding a positive light on Jefferson.”
Television and news crews took up most of her Friday and she said she was even mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.
It was Jeff Rhoades, the Jefferson girls basketball coach, who suggested she enter.
“I told her to do it for fun,” he said. “She’s turned it into a real positive experience for the community and school.”
Rhoades and Inch’s partner, Bryan Miyagishima, a librarian at Linn-Benton Community College, offered consultation but Inch opted to stick with her creative formula.
Using her library expertise in her bracket research, she learned some fun facts about Hoyas and Boilermakers and Gauchos and Zips— the mascot for the University of Akron.
“I had no idea what a Zip was,” she said with a laugh. “Turns out it’s a kangaroo.”
For some mascot matchups, she used logic: A cougar, for instance, would easily handle a terrier, so she picked BYU over Wofford. And she also called on her soft spot for Huskies. Inch worked at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and studied library science at the University of Washington. Both have Husky mascots.
“Huskies got the nod,” she said.
Hopefully that’ll bode well for her national champion: In a Husky vs. Bulldog final, Inch is picking UConn over Butler.