For those not initiated in the world of Pokémon, Damon Welch could probably explain it to you pretty well.

For those not initiated in the world of Pokémon, Damon Welch could probably explain it to you pretty well.

The 17-year-old Blue Springs kid won second place at the Play! Pokémon Trading Card Game State Championship in Lenexa, Kan., on March 17. By winning second place, Welch earned championship points that count toward playing in premier events later in the year.

Tall and bushy haired, Welch maintains a calm and confident demeanor behind a stack of Pokémon playing cards. Across from him is his friend, Charlene Clements, who was partly responsible for introducing him to the Pokémon world.

“But I don’t play to his level,” Clements said. “I’m not there yet. (Damon’s) an excellent player.”

Derek Griffin, another fan and player, agreed.

“I’ve never won,” Griffin said. “But I’m happy Damon did.”

Welch’s prowess with Pokémon cards could be the result of an unfair advantage: his grandparents own A to Z Comics in Blue Springs, which opened in the late 1980s and is a popular hangout among comic fans – and Pokémon players.

Superhero posters adorn the walls, and there’s even a Pokémon poster tacked up high. Welch sits with his card collection and considers playing a quick game, which isn’t a simple feat: most games take at least a half hour, but he’s been known to embarrass a few in five minutes.

Welch doesn’t seem sure when his interest in the game started. He knew friends who played, and one day (he estimates it was around 2008 or 2009), he decided to join in. The fast-paced, lingo-stuffed game caught his attention.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that you have to think about your next move,” Welch said.

But it can be difficult to detect any careful thinking when watching Welch and Clements play. Fingers fly, sighs escape and a steady fountain of near-absurd terms spill forth.

Listen closely and you’ll hear words like “staller,” “anti-lead,” “hazer,” “thunderdancer,” “revenge killer” and “scarfed.” To the uninitiated, it’s like having someone throw Frisbees at you every two seconds.

A player can win in one of three ways: collecting all six prize cards; if their opponent runs out of Pokémon on the field; or if their opponent must draw a card from their deck but there are no cards to draw.

Players swear that the game improves math and reading skills, and Welch agrees. But it’s more social for him than anything.

“It’s just fun to get together and hang out,” he said.

Welch isn’t opposed to other games, including chess, but for now it’s Pokémon – or at least until he graduates from high school. Then it’s onto college, where he plans to study criminology.

Welch’s victory on March 17 was his first notable victory. He played last year at the tournament and came in 18th place. He isn’t sure what he did to improve this year.

“Probably just played, practiced,” he said.

By earning championship points, Welch has an edge going into the national championship in Indianapolis in June.

Steve Ferrell, a premier tournament organizer for Pokémon, said many players come because it’s free and gives them the opportunity to meet people – kids and adults alike.

A former military man, Ferrell said the game attracts a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons. In 2008, the game reached a peak in popularity after marketers of Pokémon began reaching out to comic shops and other venues. They began advertising tournaments with increasing regularity.

“And part of it is that tournaments are free,” Ferrell said. “In today’s economy, kids and parents are looking for that activity that’s free.”

And Ferrell is part of that group that believes Pokémon does indeed improve reading and math skills.

“I have nine children, and my one son says it helps him,” he said. “It’s great when you find an activity that a child enjoys and learns at the same time.”

Compared with many games, video games included, Pokémon offers a positive message that is oftentimes missing from other games, Ferrell said.

“Parents can’t argue with that,” he said.