It was thirty years ago today that I attended the first meeting of the Mississauga Scrabble Club. I saw an ad for the Club in the Mississauga News and instantly my passion for this game was piqued by the chance to play new opponents in a more competitive environment. On the evening of Monday, April 5, 1993 I cycled to the Meadowvale Community Centre and from that night on my life would be changed. I met the Club’s director, Shaun Goatcher, who paired me with his wife Pat for the first game. I still kept a daily diary in 1993 and wrote about my first Club night with specific detail including game scores and bingos played.
When I played at home I used an old edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as a word source, and learned all the two-letter words just by poring over the dictionary page by page. I didn’t own a copy of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary and therefore was unacquainted with any of the other official two-letter words, or anything else that was in the OSPD second edition, which came out in 1991. Thus when Pat played XU against me, I challenged it. I had no idea what word that was, as it wasn’t on my own two-letter word list, and Shaun came over to adjudicate the challenge.
What Shaun did next has stayed with me for the past three decades as a sign of polite and proper games etiquette. He brought out the OSPD2 and looked up the word. He could very well have said “It’s good” without even bothering to bring the dictionary with him, but he didn’t. He realized he had a room full of possible new Scrabble Club players, who’d like to know if words were really acceptable or actually phonies. All Scrabble Club players regardless of playing level know that XU is a word, and have used it regularly ever since they first learned it. But complete Club newbies had no clue about some of the words Shaun and Pat were playing against them, and naturally were curious to have them checked. Shaun earned my respect by looking that word up when he took my call for a challenge.
I beat Pat 408-314 and played two bingos: GURGLES (73) and TENDONS (70). Shaun came over to look at the board. While the score wasn’t anything to get excited about, Shaun noticed many of the shorter words, and asked Pat who had played them. Now these words are second nature to all Scrabble players, yet in Shaun’s mind, a newbie wouldn’t necessarily know them. Thus when Pat told Shaun that I had been the one who played RHO, ZOA, JURA and FAQIR, he jumped at the chance to play me next. I was thoroughly trounced in my game against him, 403-288, yet I got the chance to meet my toughest opposition yet. Shaun’s bingos were BAILEES (79) and FAINTERS (65), which I questioned (not going so far as to hold him on it) since I didn’t like the idea of a plausible definition “those that faint”. My third game was against Bruce, which I won 368-204. My only bingo was SURMISE (70).
Current Mississauga Club members have asked me if I remembered who was in attendance on our first night. As I was meticulous in recording the details of our inaugural night, I did record the names, but first names only. I learned their surnames only after the players began to show up regularly. Attendance on our first night was myself, Shaun, Pat, Barbara (Pat’s daughter), Frances Forsythe, Dana Fuller, June Leedham, Eileen, and two couples Carolyne & Bruce, and Ian & Pam. Aside from myself and Pat, Dana, Frances and June would become regular Club members.
In my desire to get better at this game I would cycle to Shaun’s house and play him on weekends. Often he would have others over as well. I would go on to lose game after game against Shaun, always returning to his table to get trounced some more. My losing streak never dissuaded me from playing and I didn’t feel bad about leaving his place after going 0-5. Likewise, Shaun never made it seem as if I was unworthy competition. He was my first Scrabble mentor, teaching me strategies, the game rules and new words galore, and I always knew that one day (months from then) I would beat him.
I loved those early days of the Club, when every game was a discovery of a new word hook, a new short Z word, a new vowel dump or a new anagram set. I went to the Club every week. We later met at Shaun’s house and then moved to the Erin Mills Church Centre, where Club night changed to Thursdays. We now meet at the South Common Community Centre.
After hundreds and hundreds of games I managed to pull out my highest score ever, 714, at the Club in July 2011. On the other extreme, my lowest ever score, 210, was reached on two occasions, but neither was on a Club night.
The Scrabble community has given me my closest set of friends, the dearest one of course being my husband Mark. We have travelled all over southern Ontario and the US to participate in tournaments and to visit Scrabble friends. Mark and I just got back from Fort Lauderdale where we participated in an unrated four-day tournament. We always make extended vacations of the US Scrabble Nationals host cities when we are able to participate, as in Baltimore last year, when we also visited Washington, DC and Delaware.
I do not know where I would be now if it weren’t for the Scrabble Club. Would I still be interested in the game? Probably; I have always been interested in word games, ever since childhood. But would I have even known about the Club and Tournament scene? Perhaps I would have come across the Toronto Club in the news or on-line sometime later. That newspaper ad announcing the formation of the Mississauga Scrabble Club changed my life. It has given me lifelong friends and endless hours of enjoyment of my favourite game. Thank-you Shaun for establishing the Club, and to all the Club members whom I count among my dearest friends.