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Scrabble Tournament Raises $10,000 for Blue Ridge Literacy

(L to R) Norma McCoy, Josephine Moorman, and Nancy Ziegler.

by Beverly Amsler

The seventh annual Blue Ridge Literacy Scrabble Tournament brought more than 225 players to the Jefferson Center’s Fitzpatrick Hall.  Literacy Executive Director Russ Merritt says this was the biggest tournament ever, due to adding an afternoon session in addition to the evening session.  “Doing the afternoon allowed us to expand the program.”

Merritt and his staff hoped to raise $10,000 which is about the same as in previous years.  “The money is used to provide support for our volunteer tutor programming, recruiting and training tutors, providing materials for learners, and administrative support.”

Blue Ridge Literacy currently serves the Roanoke Valley.  “We are just in the process this spring of expanding into surrounding counties.”

Merritt says scrabble makes sense for a literacy organization.  “It’s a great way, since we play by teams, rather than mano e mano-one on one.  It’s three person teams and that adds fellowship.  It’s a great way to have a whole lot of fun and actually do a little bit of learning.”

What makes a good scrabble player? “Someone who reads a lot.  A good scrabble player is someone who has a love of words; someone who has an ability to kind of put pieces together-a puzzle solver.”

Carol Duvall knows what it takes to be a good scrabble player.  She took part in her first tournament during the afternoon session and her team won.  They received $20 in gift certificates, while the second place team received boxes of Scrabble Cheez-Its.

There was some luck involved in her team’s success. “We actually got away with a word, and that was part of it.  And we got the s’s and things like that.  S’s are vitally important.  S’s and blanks can make all the difference in the world.”

“The secret of winning is truly knowing the placement of the letters.  You don’t have to know words and that’s what holds off a lot of people from playing is because they feel like they have to know all the words.  So you need to learn the 2-letter words and then you need to know how to place them.  The placement on the value tiles is really important.”

Nancy Zeigler, Josephine Moorman, and Norma McCoy won last year’s tournament.  They attend church together and Ziegler says her team has been playing for 14 years, usually getting together about twice a month to play scrabble.

And when they can’t get together, some of them play online. Moorman says she’s playing against other scrabble players in real time.  “They get upset with you and everything if you’re slow.”  “When we can’t get together, I get online and play.”

Her strategy for this night was to stay focused.  “Concentrate, don’t rush, but try to be accurate and put down a good word.  Pray for the right letters.”

McCoy says practice is her secret to being a good scrabble player.  For a scrabble player wannabe she suggest to, “first, read the rules and then find a partner . . . find somebody who plays good and who loves the game.”

Merritt is looking for volunteer tutors as the programs expands.  Once the new tutors complete a 6-week training session, they’ll be matched with a learner. For more information on becoming a tutor, call 265-9339 or go online to

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