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Towanda 8-year-old headed to national Braille competition

Talk with Rich Yamamoto for any length of time and the Towanda 8-year-old will tell you more than a few good-natured whoppers.

He will also barely sit still.

But it doesn't take long to see that this boy is smart as a whip. So smart that he is heading to Los Angeles next weekend to take part in the National Braille Challenge, a competition that brings blind students from the United States and Canada together and tests their skills in reading speed, accuracy and comprehension, and spelling and proofreading.

He earned the trip by being very good at reading all types of Braille, a system of dots devised in 1825 by Louis Braille, a blind Frenchman.

Rich studied.

And studied.

Then, last February, he traveled to Nebraska and won the regional Braille Challenge for his age group.

"It was easy," he said.

His favorite part about Braille?

"I get to squish the dots. And, I get to read really fast," he said Sunday.

Now, back to those whoppers:

How old are you?

"Nine."

"Rich," his mother warns him.

"Eight. Eight and a half."

He thinks he will win in California.

What did he win for the regionals?

"I won a pair of underwear."

Actually, he won $100.

"I want to buy a new radio. And I am not going to share it with my sister."

Abigail Yamamoto, 11, explains that her brother is ahead of his age group when it comes to reading.

"My sister is blind."

She is not.

He was born blind and, at age 2, began using Braille.

Rich's teachers at Cottonwood Elementary in Andover, where he will be a third-grader this fall, have encouraged him to use BrailleNote, a computerized note-taker allowing him to read and write.

His teachers also encouraged him to enter the Braille Challenge.

Since kindergarten, Jennifer Yamamoto said, her son has been noticing typos in stories and books.

Because he did so well in the regionals, Rich has been using materials designed for the next age level above him to help prepare for the nationals.

On the drive from his home in Towanda to Wichita on Sunday, she said, Rich was asking questions about The Wichita Eagle.

Has he thought about a career in journalism?

No.

"I want to be a teacher. I think my boss would say I would make a good teacher," Rich said. "I know lots of things. I just know random stuff."

If he wins at the nationals in his age group, he wins a $1,000 savings bond and a PAC Mate portable Windows device.

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