By Mark Wineka
|The South Rowan YMCA Service Club scrabble team, from left, Linda Michael, Barbara Collins, Bruce Miller, Allan Lambert, Cindy Thompson, David Roberts, Diana Pegram and Gwen Goodman compete in the Rowan County Literacy Council's annual Scrabble tournament.photo by Wayne Hinshaw, Salisbury Post
This year, they came to win.
When members of the South Rowan YMCA Service Club participated in their first Scrabble Scramble last year, it was more or less for a fun night out.
But the players got into it and went home with the first-place trophy.
Ever since, they've been thinking, planning and practicing to win again.
"We're defending our title," Gwen Goodman explained after the first of three rounds Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn.
Goodman and seven teammates worked like a well-oiled machine and by evening's end captured the Fourth Annual Scrabble Scramble, the year's major fundraiser for the Rowan County Literacy Council.
"The real winners are our students," said Phyllis Martin, a member of the council board of directors.
The Rowan County Literacy Council served 246 students in 2006. The 2007 Scrabble Scramble probably will raise close to $5,000, and a date already is set for next year's scramble (April 22, 2008).
Under the leadership of Alan Lambert, Bruce Miller and President Linda Michael, the South Rowan Y Service Club scored the most points in every 20-minute round and ended with a 5,243 total.
The club outdistanced cocky wordsmiths from the Salisbury Post, which finished with 4,718 points; Friends of the Library, 3,897; and Ting Hao restaurant, 3,350.
Six other teams participated, including the Wizards, 2,863; the Witches, 2,838; Sanborn, 2,775; Starbucks, 2,728; Educators, 2,546; and Trinity Oaks, 2,398.
Bruce Sanborn, who sponsored and played for the Sanborn team, said his small group had the most points per player and was the best looking table overall, proving the night also was filled with moral victories.
And as you can imagine, it also had its share of long words that utilized as many high-point-value letters as possible.
In Scrabble, those valuable letters include the "z," "q," "x" and "j," for example.
They proved to be among the popular extra letters teams were allowed to buy, but at a steep price. A "z," valued at 10 points in Scrabble, cost $10. The same for "q." An "x" and "j" went for $8 each.
The Educators used "juxtapositional "and "jambalaya" for a scoring punch in the first round. They also put down "kestrel" and "thievery."
Early on, the Post offered up "demythologizing," "quixotically" and "quinquagenarian" the kind of words that don't always make it through a computer's spellcheck.
The Wizards had "exacerbated" and "disfigured" on their first board. The table from Trinity Oaks pulled out "zoogeographical" and "responsibility" from its bag of tricks.
The South Rowan Y Service Club quickly used all 100 letters from their bag in the night's first round and immediately covered their board, in case there were any spies floating around the room.
At the end of the night, team members said one of their best words was "oxyphenbutazona," a 15-letter word that stretched across the width of the board and took advantage of three triple-word bonuses.
"It's a liquid chemical of some sort," team member David Roberts explained.
Rowan Public Library judges Betty Middleton, Melody Moxley and Gretchen Witt served as the night's authorities, and they relied on the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary.
Each team gathered around a table with a Deluxe Scrabble board in the middle. The table also included a bag of tiles, calculator, pencil and paper and green sheets for tile requests.
The rules in Scrabble Scramble are different than regular Scrabble, as words put down at one point can be removed later to form other words. But teams were not allowed to have word lists or dictionaries.
If a team wanted to check whether a word was valid, they had to pay for someone to look it up in a dictionary.
"It's like Scrabble you've never played before," Martin said.
Each round began with a starter word furnished by Scrabble Scramble Chairman Susanne Pierce. The starter words Tuesday were "score," "game" and "win."
The starter words had to go through the star in the middle of the board. For most teams Tuesday night, the strategy was to build long words on the outside that took advantage of triple-word values and eventually try to connect them to the middle.
|Word search: Ting Hao Scrabble team member Laura Thompson studies the board. photo by Wayne Hinshaw, Salisbury Post
The night wasn't all about cutthroat competition. In between rounds, Pierce read out winning raffle ticket numbers, and volunteer Clyde Harriss delivered the prizes.
The literacy council also held a dinner for the participants before the competition and provided coffee and dessert during the games.
The night had its moments of sportsmanship, too.
The South Rowan Y Service Club informed the scorers' table that the first total given to the club after the first round seemed way too high, according to its own calculations. The club was right, and the officials made the correction.
The service club meets the third Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m., and the meetings include a dinner, program and work on projects.
At present, the club is raising money for a splash park, which will be named for the late Frank Tadlock.
The South Rowan Y Service Club gets to hold the Scrabble Scramble first-place trophy for another year. It will go in the trophy case at the Y.
Members of the team included Goodman, Miller, Lambert, Roberts, Michael, Cindy Thompson, Barbara Collins and Diana Pegram. Everyone but Thompson was on the team last year.
Expect to see them again.
"We'll be back," promised Collins. "We will always be back."
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.