SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The phrases give the 12-year-old boy confidence. The tiled letters sharpen his focus like a sliver-thin laser. He excels at enjoying the sport’s English and Spanish variations.

Scrabble is Ricky Rodriguez’s world.

“I don’t actually have a favourite phrase,” Ricky mentioned at his North Facet dwelling. “Simply scoring factors — that’s my favourite factor.”

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At 18 months, he was recognized with autism. As a toddler, Ricky would get anxious when he didn’t win a sport. The group of Scrabble gamers calmed him. Interacting with opponents improved his social abilities and enabled him to plan methods he’ll use Might 14-15 on the North American College Championship in Washington, D.C.

One in all his dad and mom, often his mom, accompanies him on travels to competitions. Ricky has displayed his abilities at tournaments throughout the nation and overseas.

Ricky received 7 of 19 video games on the World English Language Scrabble Gamers Affiliation youth cup in Malaysia. The San Antonio native was considered one of 190 youngsters from greater than a dozen nations who competed within the match greater than 9,700 miles from the Alamo metropolis. He received his final sport with 77 factors for an applicable phrase — “retired.”

In 2019, Ricky turned a nationwide champion for youth Scrabble championship in Philadelphia with a third-place win enjoying with a boy named Dylan Robbin, who was the identical age. He’s performed at out-of-state tournaments in cities that embrace Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia and states North Carolina, Connecticut and Illinois.

Ricky enjoys being part of the Scrabble group. His mom, Erin Rodriguez, mentioned generally her son wins and generally he loses. Both approach, he’s involved for the welfare of individuals throughout the board and past.

In April, Ricky was featured in Individuals journal for coming to assistance from his good friend Bianca Mohr, whose brother Jackson, 13, had died April 22, 2021, of sudden cardiac dying. He began a petition and picked up nearly 4,000 signatures requesting town designate a day in Jackson’s honor. Ricky additionally wrote a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who issued a proclamation making April 22 Jackson Mohr Day.

Whereas different 3-year-olds flipped by image books, Ricky pored by hard-back dictionaries, from A to Z.

His dad and mom needed to bind the backbone of 1 worn, well-loved dictionary with duct tape to maintain the pages from sliding to the ground. As his oldest brother Tony studied for spelling bees, Ricky would peek over his shoulder, including new phrases to his vocabulary.

When he discovered the sport “Boggle,” he received video games he performed together with his siblings and oldsters. Then in kindergarten, a good friend gave him a Scrabble Jr. sport for his birthday.

“It gave him an enviornment to achieve success and thrive,” mentioned his mom, Erin Rodriguez, 45. “It’s a approach for him to have enjoyable. He’s like a sponge. It’s like his baseball. Discovering issues that make them blissful and luxuriate in doing, that’s my dream for all of my children.”

Relations respect Ricky’s Scrabble abilities. His dad and mom, Erin and Guillermo, will attempt their luck on occasion. The oldest sibling, Tony, 20, is concentrated on math. The second oldest, Frankie, 18, is excited by enjoying devices, particularly the tuba. His youngest sister Evie, 10, performs piano and has a ardour for vogue.

“It’s all the time fascinating to see how pure the method involves him,” his father mentioned. “He has a novel method to phrases.”

The one shut second to Ricky is his grandmother Isabella Mallants. Ricky challenges her to the web sport “Phrases With Mates.” They play in 5 languages.

“It’s agonizing,” Mallants, 75, mentioned of enjoying her grandson. “It’s actually like a sport for him.”

Ricky belongs to a group of Scrabble gamers who converse the identical language.

“He’s a prodigious expertise,” considered one of his mentors, Matt Dewaelsche, wrote in a textual content. “He was already scary good a few years in the past, and if he retains working to enhance his sport, he could possibly be one thing.”

One in all his memorable observe companions was 86-year-old Pat Griffith. Two years in the past, the teenager’s mom would drive him to fulfill the octogenarian at Brookdale Shavano Park for weekly matches. Contained in the first-floor foyer of the assisted residing dwelling, they performed pleasant video games on her outsized board. They didn’t dwell on factors, triple-word scores or wins — their time was about socializing.

She wrote a observe thanking him for being her good friend; it’s pinned to his bulletin board. A photograph of them collectively is displayed on his desk.

“It turned this candy friendship,” Erin Rodriguez mentioned. “That they had Scrabble in frequent and age didn’t matter.”

In July 2020, Griffith died. The loss hit Ricky onerous. He expressed his grief by typing a mirrored image about her dying titled, “My Pal Pat.” Ricky wrote of how she taught him that the sport was “a good way to make mates and it was okay to lose. He ended the letter with: “I used to be actually unhappy once I heard the information. She could also be gone, however she nonetheless lives on in my coronary heart.”

Relations mentioned Ricky is all the time composed, cool and even-keeled. In Philadelphia, he was nominated for the sportsmanship award. At a match in Houston, he stopped an opponent after she referred to as out her level whole. She turned flushed. He recounted her factors, which elevated, all for her profit.

“That makes me so blissful to see,” his mom mentioned, “that honesty is way more necessary than profitable.”

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