When did you last play Scrabble? I haven’t played in 15 years … and it’s definitely noticeable. As I walked into the hotel lobby of Bellingham’s SpringHill Suites by Marriott, I didn’t know what to expect. I was there to interview a group of devout Scrabble enthusiasts, but unsure if I would get to play a game with them.

The members of the Newcomers’ Club of Whatcom County’s Scrabble Group. Photo credit: Kenneth Clarkson.

Sure enough, these self-proclaimed “word nerds” – some of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met – were more than happy to indulge me with a round of Scrabble.

Let the Games Begin

The first word I play is worth eight points, whereas my more-than-formidable opponents, Tina and Sue, play 20-point and 30-point words respectively on their first turns.

My Scrabble rust is in full-form.

“Hey, you know if you start coming every Friday, you’re sure to get better,” Sue says, as I follow my eight-point triumph with a 12-point improvement.

She’s right, practice does make (closer to) perfect. And Sue, Tina and the rest of these ladies definitely get their practice. Every Friday, they meet at the SpringHill Suites lobby from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. to play Scrabble.

An organized activity of the Newcomers’ Club of Whatcom County, the Scrabble group was established three years ago by Newcomers’ Club member Ramona Harrington.

When Ramona moved to Bellingham, she wanted a Scrabble group. With the help of Ann Ohren (another Scrabble pro) and the Newcomers’ Club, she started one. Now between eight and 10 members play weekly.

Sue casually plays a word for 44 points. “Although we have our core members now, we are always looking for more people to come play,” she says. “Our group is open to everyone in the Newcomers’ Club, but really anyone who wants to play can join.”

She tells me guests from the hotel will occasionally stop by and try their luck at the Scrabble board. “You don’t have to be an expert to play,” Sue says.

Well that’s good, I think, as I play a word for four points; 40 less than Sue’s last stroke of Scrabble genius.

Locating the Scrabble Stadium

The Scrabble group meets every Friday at Bellingham’s SpringHill Suites hotel between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Photo credit: Kenneth Clarkson.

The group hasn’t always met at SpringHill Suites. When they first started, Starbucks was their arena. A little later, the hotel turned into the Friday afternoon Scrabble Stadium.

General Manager Keith Coleman’s unwavering hospitality and support is something the women can’t stress enough. Coleman and his team have been integral in the continued success of the Scrabble group. “They’re so great to us,” Tina says.

“They really are,” Sue agrees. “They’ve allowed us to host our games in their lobby and they don’t make us pay to rent the space or anything.”

“It’s very nice,” Tina responds while playing the word “Qadi.”

The ability to hold a conversation and play legitimate words that start with a “Q” is beyond impressive. I’m envious. My turn rolls around again and I play “tot.” I’m beginning to wonder just who the writer here is.

Because Scrabble has a maximum limit of four players, the ladies take turns rotating between three to four tables depending on how many people are playing. And although they keep score per game, they don’t have an overall leaderboard; it’s more about having fun.

Each player’s Scrabble story differs. Some have played the game since its release, some since they were children and a few found the game later in life. Regardless of when they started, their skills are sharp now.

All Out of Tiles

Not a vowel in sight, not a good sign for my first Scrabble game in 15 years. Photo credit: Kenneth Clarkson.

As our game begins to wind down, Tina explains why she enjoys playing Scrabble so much. “You just never stop learning. I’ve learned so many words by playing this game.”

I can attest. Over the course of our hour together, I learned that the words “rood,” “ret,” “za” and “et” all exist.

We run out of Scrabble tiles, signifying the end of our game.

My goal was to hit a score of 100. I come just five points shy; 95 will have to do for today. Sue reassures me it isn’t a bad score for someone as unpracticed as myself and reiterates that if I return every Friday, I’ll keep getting better.

Although I may have lost the game and failed to reach my goal, I didn’t walk away empty-handed. Tina and Sue let me keep our scratch piece of paper scorecard as a memento of my first Scrabble bout in 15 years, a memory I won’t forget. What’s more, I enjoyed the group’s spirit of community and friendship – something that is truly invaluable.

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