Don’t Sell it Short: Five Ways That Scrabble is a Sport

Dabble in Scrabble?

The rules are tough. It’s a game for the sharp. The players are dedicated and diverse. A 10-year-old girl could be on par with a 55-year-old man…And we have a world championship winner right in our backyard.

Although a pretty bizarre niche in the Ottawa area, members of the Ottawa Scrabble Club are tearing up the rankings internationally.

Matthew Tunnicliffe, a graduate of the technical writing program at Algonquin, is a top-rated player in Canada and a revered member of the Club.

“Scrabble’s overlooked as a sport,” says  Tunnicliffe during the Club’s weekly meet-up at the Gloucester Public Library. “But like 40 million other competitors (across North America), I practice an activity with a level of expertise and compete internationally – is that not a sport?”

Take a look at five ways Scrabble should be considered a sport, according to elite players of the local Club.

1) It’s competitive and organized.

There are provincial, national and international tournaments for Scrabblers of all skill levels. Each club has a set time each week to play and record their rankings.

“It’s an individual sport rather than a team sport,” says  Adam Logan, an Ottawa native and Scrabble Club member who travels the world to compete. His specialty is memorizing word combinations mathematically. “Everybody has strengths.”

2) It’s carried out under an agreed set of rules.

“You can’t compete unless you have an official Scrabble board,” says Ross Brown, the director of the Ottawa Club. “We’re all members of The North American Scrabble Players Association…and it standardizes the game.”

The official board is grooved to keep the letters in place. The letters chips must be smooth instead of engraved to prevent players from feeling their way to “good” letters. There’s no talking during game time and players have to lift the letter bag over their head while they choose to ensure no peeking.

3) It aims to improve skills.

According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, a sport is an activity that aims to improve a skill.

“I’m a pretty good player and I know every week I’m getting better,” says Emilie Henkleman, a self-described social player who has been a part of the Club since 1997. “I like playing against the higher-rated players to give myself a challenge.”

4) Yes, there are bets.

Many of the words used in official Scrabble are uncommon. For Gavin Thompson, 47, playing the weirdest words are his specialty.

“If I can play one of the dream words on my list during a game, the other players have to buy me dinner,” he says, pulling out a long list of uncanny words. Some of them included “petcock,” “superbitch,” “bedrape” and “vaginate” – all officially recognized as words in the Scrabble dictionary.

5) Yes, there are referees.

Even the slightest infraction can cost a player the game. For example, talking about anything but Scrabble during the game would warrant a referee to affect the score.

“Some players are really specific,” says Thompson. “It really is a mind sport.”