Location: Los Angeles, CA
When Cooper Komatsu was two years old, he knew every car’s make and model. He could even identify a car based solely on its taillights. “I was always into memorizing random things,” he says. The car obsession was followed by an intense interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. So the fact that Cooper loves to play Scrabble, a game his mother began playing with him when he was five and a half years old, should come as no surprise. “My brain is wired to detect patterns,” Cooper says, “and I am a big strategist.”
Cooper began attending the Los Angeles Scrabble Club when he was six years old and played in his first tournament at eight years old. In 2016, Cooper and his partner, Jem Burch, won the National School Scrabble Championship. He met many other young Scrabble enthusiasts in the school scrabble circuit, and quite a few of them continue to play in the adult competitions now that they have aged out of school scrabble (which is for students in fourth through eighth grade). Several of them were on hand, and doing remarkably well (better than, say, this adult player who has been playing longer than many of them have been alive) at the National Scrabble Championship in Reno, Nevada. “I have found a community,” Cooper says.
While he enjoyed comparing notes with them after each game (especially his enthusiasm for board dynamics and strategy, such as when to intentionally play a phony) and playing Rack Your Brain (another word game) with them over dinner, he had strong family support on hand as well. Both Cooper’s mother and maternal grandfather were also playing in the tournament, making the experience a true family affair. But Cooper is the decidedly better player, something his mother was quick to point out whenever anyone asked her how she fares in kitchen table games against her son. After all, he has an unfair advantage. Cooper is also a former National Spelling Bee contestant, finishing in 11thplace when he was in the seventh grade and placing 7ththe following year.
“They are both word competitions,” Cooper says, “but they require different kinds of studying.” He notes that the words in spelling bees are often much longer than the words used in Scrabble games. But sometimes the studying and memorization he did for one of his passions paid off in another arena. He stumbled across the word cacomixl (that has two alternate spellings) while studying for Scrabble and was then given the word in one of his final rounds in the National Spelling Bee. He also successfully spelled dicynodon(a herbivorous animal with two tusks) that he knew from his earlier passion for dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.
Cooper’s current passion is math. “I like how perfect it is,” he says. “And that nothing is debatable.” He also appreciates how malleable it is, in that it provides a building block for so many different future studies and career paths. “I feel like there are so many applications for it,” he says, even though he modestly admits that he is “not good enough to become a super mathematician.”
That is debatable. You spend any time with Cooper, and you get the sense that there really is no limit to what he can do and that whatever he does will receive his intense concentration, his considerable smarts, and will ultimately conclude with great success. He credits his parents with not only fostering all of his interests, allowing him to delve in as deeply as he desired, but also with making sure that all of that intellect and talent was packaged in a decent person. “They always laid out expectations for how I should act,” Cooper says, “and placed a lot of importance on my being a nice person.”
So for those folks who despair about teenagers today, who think they are always on their phones and only care about superficial things, know that Cooper is out there. He is able to goof off with his peers and sheepishly grin about all the phonies he intentionally played and got away with during his Scrabble games, while acing his AP classes and tests and mastering word lists and competitions at the highest national level. He is well-rounded and engaged and interesting. But most of all, he is a really nice kid. They do exist.
I suspect Cooper is one of those kids about whom we will be saying, “I knew him when…” So this is me officially doing just that, going on the record to state unequivocally that I expect great things from him…and I called it!