I am a very experienced competitive Scrabble player. I’ve been playing in tournaments for over 20 years, organized tournaments and am an official director of tournaments, and traveled overseas and competed. Heck, I even married another competitive Scrabble player! But here I am, attending the North American School Scrabble Championships, and I’m not even playing any Scrabble. It has been a dream of mine to see our children play Scrabble, but it always felt so far away. But here we are, and I could not be more excited. Seeing Scrabble from a parent’s perspective has proven challenging. I no longer have any control over the tiles or the board. I’ve helped coach our daughter, Lea Shin, for a while now, but it’s now the time to release her into the wild room of competitive Scrabble.
But here’s the cool thing about this tournament. The children, 8th grade and under, get to compete in pairs. It’s less pressure for the kids and just downright fun! We traveled to Washington DC and entered Planet Word, the most incredible museum dedicated to words! Who knew such a place existed!? We also entered a room of almost 100 other Scrabble players, all under 18. Seeing so many young people excited to play our favorite game was thrilling at the North American School Scrabble Championship.
We originally had trouble finding a partner for Lea that she knew, but it turns out there are several people like her around the country, and we were able to pair her up with another 4th grader named Jonathan. He is the perfect partner for Lea. He is intelligent and bright and interested, and willing to learn.
Lea and Jonathan met for the first time in person on the morning of the tournament. We rushed to give them last-minute times about notating scores and helping each other out, and then they were off, and there was nothing I could do to help them win the games anymore. They were the youngest team in the competition. But they won their first game! And they won again! And again! After three games, they were at the top of the leaderboard and finally had to play some of the more experienced players.
She was featured as one of the games on the Scrabble Twitch channel, and we all watched play-by-play. We watched them make small mistakes. We watched them whisper to each other, and we watched them bingo! We interacted with the others in the Twitch chat and saw family members logging in to watch from worldwide. I’ve never been so nervous, and I wasn’t even playing. It was so exciting! Even when they lost the game. I hugged her opponent’s mother and congratulated her. We could only be proud of Lea and Jonathan, who were also proud of themselves.
They averaged a bingo a game, which not many adults can claim! These bingos included DIppERS, MOUSIER, CRATERS, HATLESS, and STONIER. They challenged many words their opponents played and had a few of their own words challenged off the board. They scored high, and they scored low, and they killed it.
[One notable play was that the word ISM was played. As a quick study tool, we coached Lea to review the short QXJZ words for high-scoring opportunities. Her opponents quickly challenged her when she linked the J to the top of that word. She was shocked that she had lost her turn, as was I. However, during our studies, we neglected to use the school Scrabble dictionary instead of the regular one. The word she played is inappropriate for children to look up in a dictionary!]
Overheard in the playing room was a group of students reviewing who their next opponents would be. A couple of seventh-grade girls noted, “Yes! Our opponents are two fourth graders! This will be an easy win!” Their friends said, “Oh no! You don’t want to play the fourth graders! The girl knows all the words in the dictionary, and the boy knows them too!”
Lea and Jonathan were the youngest ones in the room…the underdogs. They had nothing to lose. They had a fantastic time, made new friends, and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful new museum.
After eight games, they ended up in seventh place. Sixth place was ahead by one point. Brutal. But they didn’t care. Lea and Jonathan had a blast. They won some and lost some. But they’re ready to play more. They’re studying. Watch out for NASSC 2023!
And as an experienced Scrabble player, I, too, cannot wait to participate as a nervous Scrabble parent again next year.