The word was tristeza. It's a disease of citrus trees, but more importantly, for Tobey Roland, it once scored 228 points for him in a game of Scrabble, he said.
Roland, 52, of Mount Washington, loves Scrabble and estimates he has played in 120 tournaments, winning eight to 10, since he started playing competitively in 2005.
"It's fun and challenging," said Roland, an independent financial investor. "It's really more about probabilities, using premium spots and letters and getting bonuses by using seven-letter words."
"It's helpful," he added, "to know a lot of words."
Roland is among 200 people expected to attend the Greater Homewood Community Corp.'s 12th annual Scrabble Fundraiser for Literacy on Saturday, April 6, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Roland Park Country School.
"It really has grown" from the days when it started in the cafeteria at Calvert School, said Erin George, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Greater Homewood's Adult Learning Center.
The $50 general admission ($40 for seniors and students) will include dinner and opportunities for competitive play as well as playing for fun. Prizes will be offered in various categories, such as highest overall score, best food word and best "adult" word.
Table rates are available; $150 for a table of four and $300 for a table of eight, George said. People can sponsor an adult learner to attend for $40, she said.
Food donors include the north Baltimore restaurants Darker Than Blue, in Waverly; Miss Shirley's, with locations in Keswick and downtown Baltimore; Cafe Hon, in Hampden; Charmington's, in Remington; and Niwana in Charles Village.
The Scrabble event is being held in conjunction with National Library Week, April 14-20, sponsored by the American Library Association. Last year, the event raised $12,000 to help fund the Charles Village-based learning center, which teaches literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages, among other classes, George said. The center has a staff of seven and 100 volunteers, and its budget last year was more than $550,000, she said.
"We're looking to beat that (fundraising total) this year," she said.
There is "a pretty overwhelming need" for literacy classes in Maryland, where 24 percent of adult residents didn't have a high school diploma as of 2011, and 19 percent of those, or about 96,000 people, lived in Baltimore City, George said, citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics. In addition, full-time workers in Maryland who did not have a high school diploma earned an average of $464 a week in the third quarter of 2012, while high school grads made $648 a week on average and college grads made $1,170 a week on average, George said, citing statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Scrabble event helps raise awareness about Greater Homewood's literacy efforts and draws people such as Roland, who plays in several Scrabble clubs in the Baltimore area and is rated by the National Scrabble Association and the North American Scrabble Players Association..
Roland said he is going not so much for the tournament play but because, "It's a warm community event that's fun and for a purpose."
"It's a worthy cause and it's great to be able to do something I like to do," said Lynn Logan, of Roland Park, a production editor for Johns Hopkins University. She said she'd been playing "kitchen table Scrabble" for 20 years, but became so passionate about the game that she joined a club in Hunt Valley last year, because, "I wanted to play a lot more. I thought it would be causal players, but they had clocks. I was like, wow! The first thing they asked me was, 'What's your rating?'"
Also a member of the club is Roland, ranked 44th in Division 2 of the National Scrabble Association last year, according to its website.
"Imagine me showing up, and he was the first person I encountered," said Logan, who still calls herself "a newcomer" to competitive Scrabble.
On the other end of the spectrum is Dave Engelhardt, 61, of Towson, a circulation manager for The Baltimore Sun. He remembers walking out of the Sun building one day in the late 1970s and being handed a flier announcing an upcoming Scrabble tournament in northeast Baltimore, sponsored by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. Roughly 200 people showed up, he said.
"I play in tournaments as much as twice a month," said Engelhardt, who once scored 158 points for the seven-letter word 'dumpiest,' and estimates he has won as many as 15 tournaments, most recently one in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he won $350.
"I probably broke even," on his trip there and back, he said.
Engelhardt plans to attend the Greater Homewood Scrabble fundraiser as he has in the past.