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Kids battle in Scrabble at South Jamaica PAL

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The PAL kicked off its three-day Tournament of Champions with its educational round of games and contests. The children, who ranged in age from 6 to 18, took part in events featuring such games as ping pong, foosball, Scrabble and Connect Four."The kids really look forward to this event every year," said Felix Urrutia, PAL's executive director. "This is like the Olympics for them."The children were able to take part in the tournament because they were the winners of the competition at their local PAL center, according to Urrutia. First-time tournament participant Shanteyshia McMullen, 8, who goes to school in Far Rockaway, said she was both excited and nervous to play foosball games against the other kids."So far, I beat everyone that signed up for fooseball, but now I'm a little scared. I've never seen so many people before," she said as she waited with the other participants in the center's gymnasium.Winners of the competitions were awarded bronze, silver and gold medals at the end of the day and the center with the most wins was given a special plaque. Although he said the medals were great rewards for the kids' hard work, Urrutia believes their increased understanding of sportsmanship was the real accomplishment."It's about following the rules and playing the game. We are trying to get the kids to master the game before they compete at larger levels," he said.Urrutia said the tournament also allowed kids to make new friends with others who shared their passion for the games. Hassan Williams, 9, of Far Rockaway, said he enjoyed meeting kids from other parts of the city."I like being meeting new people because I like being helpful. It's great to have good friendships," he said.The tournament has been an annual event for the PAL for nearly 40 years and has grown tremendously, Urrutia said. The draw, according to the executive director, is the opportunity to have access to a free, respected outlet for kids to grow physically and educationally."Parents need safe structured places for their kids to grow and we give it to them and more," Urrutia said. "We focus on the quality of events rather than appealing to the masses."Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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