Florence teen reaches finals round of national Scrabble tourney

  • Jack Carpenter plays Scrabble with his friend Ryland Breen. Caprenter took second place in the OQuaSSA (Online Quarantined School Scrabble Action) tournament. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jack Carpenter plays Scrabble online with a friend. Carpenter took second place in a recent North American tournament for schoolkids. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 6/2/2020 7:01:46 PM

Jack Carpenter, a 13-year-old seventh grade student at JFK Middle School in Florence, made it to the final match of an annual Scrabble tournament for players across North America in grades 3 to 8 on May 31. 

Although Carpenter was eliminated from the finals via a livestream on Twitch, he had been the only undefeated player out of 60 students from across the country in reaching the finals, said Ben Greenwood, a tiered support specialist teacher at JFK Middle School who serves as the school’s Scrabble team coach and organizer. 

Carpenter lost to sixth grader Gideon Brosowsky of Washington, D.C., in the tournament final of the 2020 OQuaSSA (Online Quarantined School Scrabble Action) tournament.

“Initially when I started Scrabble, it was just a thing I wanted to do with my friends to try out,” said Carpenter, who began playing Scrabble just last year. “I never thought it would become a hobby and a passion of mine and that it would grow to this sort of level.” 

This year, the tournament was scheduled to take place in Baltimore, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was moved to the streaming platform Twitch, said Greenwood, who also serves as the event’s director. 

“There were eight games over two days and the top two players competed in a two out of three to be the final winner,” Greenwood explained, adding that Carpenter went undefeated before reaching the finals. “He had by far the best record in the entire field … He played some of the stronger players and came up ahead. He’s a remarkable talent.” 

Greenwood said young adults from across the United States and Canada competed in the online Scrabble tournament from about a dozen states and provinces including New York, California, Ontario, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and others. 

“All of those are places where there’s an individual or a coach whose worked with the program, worked with the kids, and realized the educational value of it and made it a big thing,” he said. 

Carpenter said competing in the tournament online was more challenging than competing in person. 

“I feel like usually Scrabble is pretty visual because you’re trying to look at your letters to anagram them to find words. You can’t really do that online. I was a little concerned about that. I had to study a little bit extra because it’s kind of harder to play when you can’t move your tiles around physically. I realized I needed to focus more on prefixes and suffixes.”

He added that as he progressed through the online tournament, he became more confident playing with opponents digitally. 

For Scrabble players, having a strong background in mathematics means that even newcomers to the game can be just as good as players with a comprehensive grasp on English vocabulary, Greenwood said. 

“I’ve typically looked for the kids who are the real standouts in math classes, surprisingly, even if they’ve never played the game before,” he said. “Jack is a really bright kid. He has a really creative way with words, with language. He’s not just able to anagram, mix up the words and see things, but think of possibilities — things that seem like they should be words even if it’s beyond his vocabulary.” 

One of most memorable moments for Carpenter during the tournament was being able to play with another player ahead of the finals. 

“The person who was projected to go first in the tournament … her national ranking was very high, so I decided to contact her and I ended up playing with her that night just to get a feel of who I was going against. I ended up losing to her that night.”

After being defeated in the private game, he analyzed her game strategies in order to learn from his initial loss, he said. 

“That ended up propelling me to victory when I played her in my first game on day two,” Carpenter said. 

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com


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