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For these competitors, words R their thing

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Renee Camille can't believe her eyes. As one of the judges at the National School Scrabble Championship, Ms. Camille has just witnessed a team who scored two 100-point plays with the words "jointer" and "staking."

It's the equivalent of a hole in one in golf or a grand slam in baseball.

Dressed in a referee shirt, Camille starts frantically looking for a photographer to capture this perfect moment. After pacing up and down the aisles between the 53 tables, she finally tracks one down.

"Look how cool they are about it," she says, looking proudly over at the students. "I don't think they understand how 'wow' that was."

Eighth-graders Eric Valentine and Lucian Battaglia of McMinnville, Ore., were among the more than 200 fifth- through eighth-graders who competed in the second annual National School Scrabble Championship event last weekend in Boston. Students from across the country not only competed in a qualifying tournament in their states, but ran bake sales and car washes to raise money for travel expenses. They memorized pages of four-letter and three-letter words and learned how to strategize: finding "hot spots" on the board, learning how to dump vowels and consonants, finding "bingos" (words that use all seven tiles in a player's tray), and finding slots for Q, J, X, and Z - the highest-scoring letters.

Students came from public and private schools, recreation centers, libraries, and youth organizations, and wore personalized visors, boat hats, and other colorful headgear to promote team spirit. One even wore his lucky Krispy Kreme hat. Others made their own T-Shirts, including one that said, "Got Scrabble? Scrabble Makes Stronger Minds."

During the six 44-minute rounds, the ballroom was exceptionally quiet except for the shaking of the wooden tiles in a purple velvet bag and students raising their hands and calling out "challenge." Signs that said "Please turn off cellphones" were ubiquitous.


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