Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Library Scrabble scramble!

This column was published in the Tri-Valley Times on January 12, 2012.

As a journalist, I often get a close-up look at events around our city and I enjoy recreating those experiences in print so I can bring you along.

Join me now as we attend the first-ever elementary and middle school Scrabble tournament held at the Pleasanton Library. We’ll meet a few people and look over the shoulders of the kids to see some of the cool words the youngsters played.

If you’d arrived with me at the library just after 10 a.m. on January 3, you would have seen some 40 students and their parents checking in for the tournament in the children’s area. Picture a diversity of eager faces and various ages from third to eighth grade.

As the kids were being seated four to a table within their age groups, I asked Megan Slone, age 13, to share what she hoped to get out of the day’s experience.

“I hope to win,” she said, smiling. Megan was attending with her brother Russell, age 9, accompanied by their father Victor.

Similarly, Vivek Palekar shared what prompted him to bring his ten-year-old son to the tournament: “Vishal is an avid reader and a spelling bee champion in his class at Lydiksen Elementary,” said Palekar, “so I knew he would enjoy this event.”

Librarian John Mitchell welcomed the participants and outlined the tournament rules. He explained that no students would be eliminated during the day-long event since the winners would be determined by total points earned. He also noted that the prizes would be gift cards of $25, $15, and $10 to Towne Center Books for first, second, and third place for the two competitions of third through fifth grade and sixth through eighth grade.

Mitchell answered a few questions, and then asked parents to leave the room so the tournament could begin. As the students played, I quietly chatted with Mitchell and Chris Spitzel, another librarian who was helping with the tournament. I learned about other programs offered for children at the library, such as Paws to Read, Friday Story Time, and the Booklegger program. Spitzel is the coordinator for this program and encourages readers to consider volunteering since she could use a few more adults to go into Pleasanton classrooms to promote books and reading.

As the tournament continued, I jotted down many of the words being played. Here are some you would have seen along with me: kitten, ogre, lasso, amulet, skinner, reap, gnome, math, omit, pesky, ablaze, and fever. I was also struck by two simple words that seemed to capture the spirit of the day: fun and hip.

After the tournament, Mitchell announced the winners: Abhat Sawkar, age 14, won first place for his age group with 509 points; and Blake Youngquist, age 10, won first place for his group with 446 points.

As the participants departed, Sandy Silva, who oversees children’s services for the library, glanced through the student feedback forms. “We hoped this would be a fun and educational social outing for students,” she said, “and judging from this feedback, it looks like the day was a success.”

Spitzel added that she was impressed not only with the quality of the words that were played but the positive manner in which the kids competed. “It took some bravery to come and compete today,” she said. “All the students should be proud.”

For more information about youth programs at the library, or to volunteer for the Booklegger program, contact the Pleasanton Library through its website at www.ci.pleasanton.ca.us/services/library.

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