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Top officials set Scrabble tourney example

Did the police send in a ringer to a Scrabble throwdown? With top dog Charles H. Ramsey out of town, Deputy Police Commissioner Charlotte Council faced Fire Commissioner Lloyd M. Ayers yesterday at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Did the police send in a ringer to a Scrabble throwdown?

With top dog Charles H. Ramsey out of town, Deputy Police Commissioner Charlotte Council faced Fire Commissioner Lloyd M. Ayers yesterday at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

With a few dozen high school students looking on, she laid down the letter of the law.

Or more specifically, the letters of YAP. And ZIP.

Afterward, she smiled and declared she "absolutely" won, though the pair had made just a few moves each as celebrity spellers.

It was good-natured FUN - a word Ayers played at a ceremonial square-off to promote an annual effort to get more students under Scrabble's spell.

Overseen by the same nonprofit that has boosted chess through the city, "Philly Plays Scrabble" includes opportunities to play at 17 Free Library branches, a tournament for novices next month, a new Scrabble league in schools, and a push to hike student participation.

"We had over 60 clubs last year, with about 700 kids playing weekly," said Emily Goss, program coordinator of After School Activities Partnerships, the organizing group, which also offers yoga, art, dance, and debate programs.

Chess, however, has more than 250 clubs, so there's room for more.

"I think that would be something that our school would definitely consider," Christine Walden, a junior at Science Leadership Academy, said of the Scrabble offering.

All the clubs "teach skills, discipline, and winning and losing with grace, which is important for kids to know," said the partnership's founder and president, Marciene Mattleman.

She started the Scrabble program four years ago with even loftier goals.

"Why can't we be known as a city for literacy?" she asked.

Then why did a math teacher shepherd students to the library to play a word game?

"I would argue it's more mathematics than it is English," said John Kalicki of the High School for Engineering and Science.

Two of his sophomores, Khaleef Burns and Briana Douglas, were picked to assist Council and Ayers - not just with words, but those double-word and triple-letter scores.

Kalicki is helping to launch the Scrabble league in January so teams can challenge other schools.

Adults can also compete in a tournament scheduled for Nov. 14 at Community College of Philadelphia. That's a Saturday, to encourage more young players to come out, she said.

The free competition, open to unranked players, will offer a $100 gift certificate to the winner in each of three divisions: grades 3 to 8, high school, and adult.

Goss recommends registering by calling her at 215-545-2727, Ext. 10, or e-mailing her at egoss@phillyasap.org.

"I'm delighted to sit down with students and have some intelligent fun," Ayers said about his match.

Indeed, after it was over, students stayed to play more games.

But do Harry Potter words like AUROR count? It was on one board during a game between two Science Leadership Academy students.

"Yes, they do," sophomore Luna Frank-Fischer said and laughed. "They definitely do!"

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