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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 20, 2017 10:02 pm

Berkshire employee almost wins big

Frank Gray

Johnny Strawser says he hasn’t filled out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament in years.

Sure, he could waste a lot of time and pay $10 to enter one pool and $15 in another and $50 in another, but he doesn’t.

Strawser, though, got a job in January at MedPro Group in Fort Wayne. MedPro is a Berkshire Hathaway company, and CEO Warren Buffet runs his own little NCAA pool.

If you’re a Berkshire employee and could pick a perfect opening round, you won a million dollars. If you could name the Sweet 16, you’d get a million dollars a year for life.

So Strawser took the chance. Hey, it’s free.

And he started winning. He correctly picked the winners of the first 12 games, then 16, then 24.

Berkshire employees filled out a total of 96,108 brackets, company officials say. The way the company runs the pool, though, is that if you pick a loser, you’re out. If nobody gets a perfect first round bracket, the last man standing wins $100,000,

Well, when Strawser went to bed during the first round last week, there were still 17,000 people in the running for a prize. But when he woke up the next morning he discovered that his picks left him a record of 28 for 28 and only five people were still in the running.

And that’s where Strawser went wrong.

He’s from Michigan and he loves Michigan State basketball. But when it came time to pick winners, he said he couldn’t play favorites. Michigan State had had a rough year, so he had to pick Miami to beat Michigan State in the tournament.

Bad choice. Michigan State played as well as they have all year, Strawser said, and they won, eliminating four of the last five remaining brackets.

Strawser gets nothing for coming close, but a welder with a Berkshire company in West Virginia won $100,000 for lasting the longest. He missed out on a chance for a million by wrongly predicting that Marquette would beat South Carolina.

"It’s my team, and not to pick them," Strawser said. "It’ll give me a story to tell" for a long time.

But then again, a mistake had kept Strawser in the pool as long as it did. When he filled out his bracket, he picked Vanderbilt to beat Northwestern. He’s sure he did. His bracket, though, showed that he had picked Northwestern, and that helped keep him in the running until only five of the 96,108 were left.

There’s always next year, and Strawser can take some consolation in knowing that tens of millions of people filled out brackets for numerous online contests, and every single bracket is now busted. 

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.