FOR THE AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
After 52 years of marriage, Grace McGrath and her husband Max still haven’t run out of words to say to each other, probably because of a game they’ve been playing since before they wed.
The McGrath’s are members of the Lubbock Scrabble Club, and while Grace said they still have the Scrabble board they purchased before they were married, they have been competing since 2003.
Club Director Cheryl Tyler said she found out about the club in the local paper and started participating in the hopes of finding new competition after defeating friends and family at home. Now, 28 years after she began, Tyler has not only found herself a hobby, but also a sense of community.
“At first you come for the intellectual challenge; after you come a while it becomes about the people. It’s a great way to be social,” Tyler said. “I actually met my best friend 10 to 15 years ago at a Scrabble tournament in Ft. Worth. It never gets boring. There’s always something new to create.”
Each round lasts less than an hour as each player is allotted 25 minutes, Tyler said. The club plays four games for four hours on Saturday and meets again on Tuesday evenings for about three hours.
And while some players are just looking for something to do on the weekends, for others the club serves as practice for competitive Scrabble tournaments. Tyler said the Lubbock club sponsored their own tournament last November and had members attend the national tournament in Dallas last year.
Dallas is also the headquarters for the North American Scrabble Players Association, an organization founded in part by co-president Chris Cree after Hasbro decided to focus its day-to-day funding effort on the School Scrabble Program. According to Cree, Texas boasts about 10 clubs throughout the state.
Before returning to Lubbock, his hometown, Caesar Jaramillo said he served as the Austin Scrabble Club director for 25 years. Jaramillo hopes to bring attention to the Lubbock club and raise the number of players who show up to Market Street on 50th Street and Indiana Avenue on the weekends.
“It’s good to have all levels of players from beginner to intermediate,” Jaramillo said. “When you have new players you don’t want to have all of your best players against them because then they don’t want to come back.”
The crossword puzzle lover, who first began playing the game during his time in the military said he is striving to compete in 3,000 tournament games by the end of this year.
The Mattel Scrabble website lists 1948 as the year the game was patented by its founder Alfred Mosher Butts and investor James Brunot. With the advent of the online version of the game as well as the mobile version called Words With Friends, the board game’s popularity is steadily increasing and attracting new players like Michelle Meeks, who like Tyler found out about the Lubbock club after scanning through the paper.
“It was fun. My opponent Max was really patient, but that 25 minutes was stressful,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s a lot tougher than Words With Friends but I’ll be back, and I’m going to get my friends to come.”
After her co-worker and friend told her about the club, Kay Weston said her interest was piqued and after her first tournament she was hooked. Weston said initial skill level is not an issue for new players and competitors shouldn’t be too concerned about their lack of previous experience.
“It’s such a neat thing to play in a tournament. With a little bit of study and the right coaching, you can progress,” Weston said. “And you don’t have to be a nerd, but it helps.”