Over the past six weeks, live sports have taken a back seat in our everyday lives. People are watching virtual simulations, betting on simulations and more people watched the NFL draft over the weekend than ever before.

People are even running to Twitter to vote for the best high school football helmet in Nebraska.

Platteview football coach Mark McLaughlin has the Nebraska high school football community buzzing over his 272 team bracket to determine the best helmet in Nebraska. McLaughlin sent out a Twitter message to all Nebraska high school football coaches asking them to send him a picture of their current helmet. The ones that did got a 15-vote bonus in their first-round matchup.

Luckily for McLaughlin, he did not have to rely on the coaches to do this for their team to participate, as he found graphics of 272 of the 275 teams from Brett Baker, TV news producer in Lincoln.

“I got 272 of the 275 schools, so whoever wins, they beat everybody,” McLaughlin said. “Whoever wins is truly the state champion if there were to ever be one for coolest helmet.”

McLaughlin said the bracket is not sponsored by the Nebraska Schools Activities Association, but rather is simply a fun exercise for high school football fans.

“One thing is here in the In The Game area there are several teams that did really well,” he said, referencing the sports section of the Papillion Times, Bellevue Leader, Gretna Breeze and Ralston Recorder.

In fact, Papillion-La Vista South reached the semifinals, where voting will begin Thursday at 7. The semifinal matchups are Papio South against South Sioux City and Roncalli Catholic against Columbus Lakeview.

In other local results, Gross Catholic lost to Roncalli in the round of 16. Bellevue West lost in the round of 32 to the O’Neill Eagles. Ralston lost in the round of 32 to the Gibbon Buffaloes. The Ogallala Indians defeated Bellevue East in the second round and Platteview lost in the quarterfinals to Columbus.

Gretna lost to Pender in the first round, Papio lost to Aquinas Catholic in the first round and Bryan lost to the Blair in the fist round.

From the outset of the voting, McLaughlin noticed a couple of trends.

“Another thing I have noticed is people really enjoy the Cinderella, like you see in March Madness and we have a few of those,” McLaughlin said.

“In some of the small town communities you see that pride, whether it is a high school football game or a Twitter poll, they just do not want to lose. So, they really participate well.”

“What has been most surprising, the most iconic helmets in the state, like Millard North, did not go as far as I thought. So, people are essentially voting on looks over what the helmet represents.”

The number of total teams was 272 and that ended up being a good number for a huge bracket challenge.

“Two-hundred and seventy-two divided by 16 is 17,” McLaughlin said. “I took 17 teams and put them in 16 brackets and that gave me one play-in game per bracket. I tried to group them by mascot. All the horses are in one, the Mustangs, the Chargers, the Colts, all the horses were in one.”

The competitive spirit of people in sports has come out, even if it is just a Twitter poll.

“There is a sense of pride even though there is no championship trophy, people just do not want to lose,” McLaughlin said.

The idea for the tournament originally came from another state.

“I was on Twitter one day and there was a guy that I follow from Iowa,” McLaughlin said. “We crossed paths through various coaching clinics and he was doing (a bracket challenge) in Iowa.

“I was voting along in that and he got into a match up and they were both awesome and it was impossible to choose between them. So, I made a comment on his post like ‘Dude, these are both awesome, I can’t decide’ and he mentioned that I should do one in Nebraska.

“Whether you are a football coach, a track coach, a soccer coach, or a baseball coach you want sports in your life bad right now this is the best way for us to do it.”

This tournament and idea is something that is spreading to many states and has the opportunity to become a national phenomenon.

“There are actually a whole bunch of other states that are doing it or have done to. Iowa is done, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Missouri are going right now,” he said.

“West Virginia, Kentucky and Montana are just getting started and what we are hoping is we can get more states, we probably won’t be able to get all 50, but if we can get 20 or 30 we will do a national bracket and then the champion or runner up or the top three in the estate we can put them in a little bracket and turn it loose and see who comes out of that.”

Through the Sweet 16 of votes, the Twitter polls have accumulated over 85,000 votes. In the round of 16, more than 6,000 more votes were cast — boosting the entire bracket count to above 91,000 heading into the quarterfinals.

“The short answer is no, I am not overly surprised,” McLaughlin said about the participation. “I didn’t think it would necessarily be that high, but I knew a lot of people would vote.”

McLaughlin pinned his hopes on fan responses in part to a 64-team best all-time college football team bracket conducted by ESPN.

“I will never forget Kirk Herbstreit got so mad because the national championship game ended up being 1971 Nebraska against 1995 Nebraska. Those were two great teams but part of it was people in Nebraska are going to vote and participate, that is what we do,” he said.

The fact that more than 20,000 people watched Nebraska’s virtual spring game was just more proof folks in these parts crave their football. He puts a lot of that pride on the brand of college and high school football.

“You attach something like Nebraska high school football to something and I think your participation will go significantly up,” he said.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.