Time to stampede, Bulls!
Click here to read more about USF Week events, including a pool party, Bullstock and Rocky’s Birthday Bash. 

Look out, Scrabble’s gaining popularity

Yesterday, as I was polishing and waxing my Scrabble board and listening to REO Speedwagon, I noticed something peculiar on my television. Emblazoned on the screen was ESPN’s coverage of the 2004 National Spelling Bee.

I became immediately enthralled.

I watched for hours, even TIVOing the event for future recreation. After someone spelled the word “gloxinia,” I knew I needed a breather.

Switching over to ESPN2, I found something that would change my life forever: The 2004 National Scrabble Championships.

These word athletes, or wordletes as I refer to them, were busting triple-word score after triple-word score. I was in awe. I pondered briefly why ESPN was covering such a sacred event, but quickly disregarded the foolish question.

Apparently, I’m behind the game as far as Scrabble coverage goes. The Scrabble craze has gained notoriety since receiving coverage on ESPN.

According to National Scrabble Association Executive Director John E. Williams, the entries into the Scrabble tournament have doubled over the past 10 years. Entries into the 1994 tournament tallied approximately 400. Last year’s tournament had approximately 850 entrants.

“ESPN coverage has helped tremendously,” Williams said. “In 1994 we had about 50 or 60 stories about the championships; last year we had about 130.”

A book called Word Freak, which documented journalist Stefan Fatsis’ descent into the bowels of the seedy underground world of Scrabble, spent weeks atop the New York Times best-seller list. Fatsis followed up with an appearance in Word Wars, a film that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and detailed the same subject.

Word Wars has it all: Players taking Maalox, wordletes skipping out to smoke marijuana and, most importantly, the heated battles that take place over the Scrabble board.

It has come to my attention that board games as sports are the wave of the future, and major league sports had better be ready. There are a plethora of board game tournaments besides Scrabble, not to mention spelling bees that are ripe for the picking. Jenga, backgammon, chess, monopoly — the possibilities are endless.

This got me thinking. I’ve never really joined many organized sports. Aside from playing pickup baseball and football, I’ve never participated in organized sports.

You couldn’t exactly call me an athlete … until now.

I’ve decided to devote my time to the 2005 National Scrabble Championship in Reno, Nev., from August 19-24. With the end of April quickly approaching, I have to step my game up to be mentally and physically capable of handling a rigorous Scrabble tournament.

The top prize from the 2004 Scrabble Championships for the highest skill level was $25,000.

That’s more than I make in a year. I could live off my future Scrabble winnings.

But how can I adjust to the learning curve in such a short period of time?

The competition will be tough, because the tournament has only been accepting applications for a week and Williams claims that more than 100 entries have already been submitted.

Joel Sherman, last year’s champion, will surely be ready to do battle.

Wordletes walk a fine line between genius and insanity. I like to think of myself as the Steve Young of Scrabble because I play only left-handed. But I have to have an edge to take out the Sherman Tank — he practices Tai Chi and meditates.

I need my upper hand.

How far is Reno from San Francisco?

Maybe someone at the tournament has some BALCO connections.

Forget it.

The last thing that Scrabble needs is a steroid controversy, but I’m willing to disregard my health for a chance at the crown.