BENTONVILLE — In the world of Scrabble warfare, the battle begins with a single word.
On Saturday night (Feb. 4), teams of Scrabble players sitting around tables in the Bentonville Doubletree Guest Suites carefully arranged their postage stamp-sized wooden tiles, spelling out “B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y” to kick off the 2012 Literacy Council of Benton County Scrabble Wars and mark the council’s 40th anniversary.
The literacy council is a nonprofit organization under the umbrella of the Arkansas Department of Career Education, funded by foundation grants, the United Way, private donors and events like this, said executive director Vicki Ronald. Scrabble Wars has been one of the most popular events the council hosts, and on Saturday night it boasted more than 200 participants.
“It keeps getting bigger and better,” said Mary Middleton, a member of the council’s advisory board. “But we need to emphasize that we have more than 40,000 (people who can’t read) in Northwest Arkansas, and we need help addressing the problem.”
“It could be your neighbor, a relative, your coworker – they’ve been bluffing their way through life, but they can’t read. And we’re giving them the basics back,” Middleton said.
Kathie Chambers, event coordinator for the council, said the event usually brings in $15,000 but that they hoped to raise $20,000 this year. It takes $650 per year to provide books and literacy materials for each adult student, and officials hope to have enough for a computer lab for continued education after the 2012 fiscal year.
After food and drinks had been amply consumed, guests settled at their tables with their “teams,” the group of people with which they had pledged to play a game of Scrabble for a good cause. Team names ranged from the witty (“As the Word Turns” and “the Scrabbadabbadoos”) to the obscure. Members “The Word Doctors” admitted they were not real doctors, but defied convention.
The rules for Scrabble took on nontraditional means, as well. When given the choice to play the standard game or the “dubious” way, most teams chose the dubious route and bought letters, bribed the judges or bartered cash for extra points. Keith Aubele, a council board member, was a judge on the “dark side” this year and offered teams a boost of 5,000 bonus points in exchange for $30.
The dark side must have had a few takers, because the champion dubious team, “The Altrusa Dictionary Divas,” won the game with more than 5 million points, a “world record” according to Aubele. The traditional winners, “The Sensers Scrabblers”, claimed the title with a more reasonable score of 1,419 points.
The spirit of the evening was carried by advocates for the organization, who encouraged guests to think of the council as a means to “help people help themselves,” auctioneer Dick Trammel said in his closing remarks. Others agreed that the council does much more than simply teach adults to read.
“The Literacy Council has enabled people to get their citizenship papers, to earn higher paying jobs, and it’s totally free to the students,” Middleton said. “But I like to think that the basic gift that we’re giving them is, as parents, to be able to read to their children.”