"I thought it would be fun," Neal said on his reason for joining the club. "I wanted to try something new."

A similar feeling motivated Thomas Ensey to join the Scrabble club at Our Lady of Victory School five years ago.

Ensey won his division Saturday at UMBC with a score of 1353, the first time he has reached that scoring milestone according to cross-tables.com, the website for competitive scrabble.

He is currently ranked 652nd in the country and 19th in Maryland, according to the website.

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"It's really educational," said Ensey, now a junior at Mount Saint Joseph High School. "We'll be reading Shakespeare and come across some of the old words that they use and I'll think, 'Oh. That's a Scrabble word.'"

He admitted his Scrabble experience helps more than just in the classroom or when he is playing "Words with Friends," the popular word game for Facebook and i-Phone.

He has also won more than $1,000 in tournaments, he said.

That tournament success began while he was an eighth-grader at Our Lady of Victory when he and classmate Rachel Backert competed in the national Scrabble tournament that Hasbro, the game's manufacturer hosts every year in Florida.

The pair finished fifth, said Sharon Moser, then the leader of the club at Victory who is now trying to start a similar club at Notre Dame Prep, where she teaches Latin and French.

Moser said that in contrast to the situation at Our Lady of Victory, where she said the Scrabble club had grown to 140 students when she left several years ago, it has been a challenge building a club at her new school.

"We're trying to get it started. They're great girls, interested in learning. They (NDP students) have so many things going on, sports, (community) service. We have to sneak it (Scrabble) in during lunch or early in the morning," she said.

But the benefits from the game are many.

"Building of vocabulary skills, math skills," she said. "You also have to learn to work together with another child. And they have to learn to organize things in their head."

And when you're just starting out, a free backpack is a nice benefit as well.

Arbutus and Catonsville residents are welcome to join the Scrabble club that meets Monday evenings on campus. For information, email Linda Oliva a oliva@umbc.edu.