Yarmouth 4th-grader calm as a clam for Bananagrams championship

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YARMOUTH — Fourth-grader Sebastien Martinez flipped Bananagrams tiles and made words on the table in front of him, biting his lip as he carefully considered where to place the next letter.

The person he was trying to beat: fourth-grade teacher Rosie Lenehan.

The Yarmouth Elementary School student and his teacher were practicing after Martinez made it to the first regional Bananagrams Challenge.

Bananagrams, an anagram word game similar to Scrabble, has players create their own word boards instead of building off their opponents. Each person gets a number of letter tiles, depending on how many players there are. When a player uses all their tiles, each player adds one more tile to their pile. When there are no more tiles left to take, the first player to use all their remaining tiles wins.

Lenehan said kids like the game – which comes in a yellow, banana-shaped pouch – because it’s fast-paced and fun.

“There’s no sitting around and waiting like in a lot of games,” she said.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Bananagrams is holding its first competition, which is open to New England students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Martinez will be one of 12 students at the championship April 9 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Martinez was one of 32 Yarmouth Elementary students who signed up after Lenehan entered the school in the competition. Winners from each of the hundreds of schools that registered then competed in an online competition to determine the top 12 finalists. According to a press release from Bananagrams, more than 10,000 students participated in the competition.

Martinez placed second in the online competition, although he almost didn’t make it. He was in 14th place before playing – and winning – one more game, which secured his spot at the finals.

“I was like, ‘Did I really just do that?'” he said. “I was shocked.”

Despite his high ranking, Martinez said his second-place spot means nothing heading into the finals.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re first place or 12th, anyone could win at the finals,” he said.

The same could be said as he played against Lenehan on Tuesday. Despite being an elementary school student, Martinez held his own against his teacher.

“I like how intense it is when you play against a good person,” Martinez said, adding that the thrill and the pressure are what make the game so enjoyable.

“It’s fun because it’s intense,” he said. “I learn new words and I get to challenge myself.”

Martinez will continue to challenge himself over the coming weeks, since he knows the final competition won’t be easy to win.

“I know there’ll probably be some sixth-graders there, and I’ll have to go against them,” he said. “They’ll know more words than me so I’ll have to study.”

Martinez said he and his parents play the game every night, and he also practices by playing Scrabble on his iPad. He has also been reading Scrabble dictionaries and studying two-letter words.

Lenehan said Martinez’s work has paid off, and she’s proud of all the students who participated.

“I think for a lot of kids it felt like a real risk to play and maybe they knew they wouldn’t be successful, but they gave it their best,” she said.

Lenehan also gave it her best as she played against Martinez on Tuesday, and she won. Although defeated, Martinez kept his head high and smiled. After all, he had come very close to beating his teacher.

“I played as hard as I could cause I knew he’d want me to,” Lenehan said. “Sebastien doesn’t mess around.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Yarmouth Elementary School fourth-grader Sebastien Martinez will be competing in the finals of the first-ever Bananagrams Challenge April 9 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Fourth-grade teacher Rosie Lenehan on March 29 helped Yarmouth Elementary School student Sebastien Martinez practice for the April 9 Bananagrams Challenge.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.