Mead has finished second, third and sixth in the North American Scrabble championships in the premier division against 50 other competitors. He is one of two people to win a “major,” an intense Boston-area competition, three times, and the only person to win it two years in a row.
“It’s a demanding game,” said Mead. “You have to have a capacious memory, of course, but the strategical side, the ability to make wise judgements, a sense of priorities, composure, self-knowledge-all these are tremendously important too.” How does a Scrabble champion prepare for tournaments? “I practice in part … through a video flash-cards program that lets me build and save groups of words; right now, I’m cranking through five-letter words,” Mead explains. “A flash-card shows me what we call an alphagram (AEHMRST), the letters of a word in alphabetical order; I’m supposed to see that and say HAMSTER.”
Mead is currently gearing up for the World Scrabble Championships, slated to occur next fall. He has been on the USA team twice before; in all likelihood, he will be selected again.
But Scrabble isn’t all Mead is up to these days. Currently, Mead teaches Latin at Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, Mass. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had; I was hired from my student teaching position, and I’ve never written a resume,” he said. “One of my graduate school teachers told me that I’d never be really happy teaching unless I used my own materials, and for the past 15 years, we’ve used a textbook that I wrote on sabbatical.” He adds,”I’d love to play Scrabble more often, but I’m serving a term as foreign language department chair [at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School], and school-based responsibilities cloud out most of the rest of my life,” he said.
Even though Mead had more credits in American Literature than in any other subject, he graduated from the College with a major in Latin. While here, he was involved in many extra-curricular activities, including running on the cross-country team, participating in Greek life on campus and singing with the Zumbyes. “I was on the cross-country team that beat two future Boston Marathon winners, Amy Burfoot and Bill Rodgers, when they ran for Wesleyan,” said Mead.
Mead also spent a great deal of time singing with the Zumbyes while at the College. “It was more the time we spent together, rehearsing and kidding, than the concerts that I remember,” he said. But his participation in Greek life was among his most memorable experiences. “Fraternity life was important to me [and] the friendships at Phi Delt” said Mead. More than anything, he remembers the feel of campus at different times of the year: “the look of the place in the fall, walking to Pratt field, or in winter on the quad, or in spring-but by then things were happening too fast to stop and watch,” added Mead.
But it seems that no student or alumnus can forget the daily experience of going to Valentine. And for those who think it is bad now, Valentine was once a place without a grill line, traditional line, pasta line, pizza line or salad bar. “I remember meals at Valentine, in the single-item-menu days and the occasional truckburger [a hamburger served over a fried egg] at the snack bar,” said Mead.
When Mead was at Amherst, there was a core curriculum-and this was his favorite aspect of the College. “My most influential professors were [Professor of English and American Studies] Leo Marx, head and shoulders, [Professor of English] Ted Baird and, in his own way, [Professor of Music] Bruce McInnes.”
One class in particular, a lecture course taught by Professor of Biology Henry Yost, is still fresh in his mind. “It was the first academic experience for all the freshman class that I most remember-the books he had us read over pre-freshman summer: Cervantes, C.P. Snow, John Wyndham,” said Mead. “The notion that all of us should have something in common to talk about (even if we never did) was important, then, and could be even now.”
As an Amherst alumnus, Mead has an ongoing rivalry with one of his colleagues at Concord-Carlisle who graduated from Williams. Each year after the Homecoming game, whosever side loses has to sing in the other’s class. Because of Amherst’s losing streak, which was finally broken this year, Mead found himself singing every year.
“Sometimes I make up new verses, such as … ‘Year after year the same-it’s Williams, it’s Williams, it’s Williams, Who wins the football game? It’s Williams, it’s Williams, it’s Williams. Who gives a rap for sport? US News and World Report know who’s really number one-not Williams, not Williams, not Williams.'”
Clearly, Mead’s fondness for the College has not waned since his graduation. When he stops teaching, he hopes to do something that will involve “reading, writing and looking around me.”