this photo taken on Feb. 26th, a player operates a pinball
game’s flippers from buttons on the side of the machine at
Waun-A-Bowl in Waunakee. Many players say they like the
challenge of a game that is never the same, features
decorative artwork and is relatively inexpensive to play,
especially for skilled players.
- Rob Stickney spent seven years taking night classes to get degrees
in the electrical engineering technician field but had no intention
of leaving his job with the city of Madison where he maintains
his time at Madison Area Technical College was all about making sure
that his Judge Dredd, Pin-Bot and Fire Power pinball machines were
in proper working order. Hiring someone to fix a 25- to nearly
30-year-old pinball machine isn't cheap and technicians are scarce.
strange motivation, I know," said Stickney, who remodeled his
basement four years ago to accommodate his pinball habit.
"There's no room for a bar. If I had more space, I'd have more
45, is part of a growing niche of enthusiasts resurrecting the
pinball machine, an arcade game that has been overshadowed in the
last 30 years by the video game. While pinball has never been
extinct, you could say it has been on the endangered species list.
first, the stand-up video games crowded the pinball machines out of
places like Space Port on State Street, Tilt at Westgate and the
Aladdin's Castles at East Towne and West Towne. Home systems
eventually closed the arcades and now smartphones let us play
wherever and whenever we want.
fraternal organizations and American Legion halls also dumped
pinball in favor of more lucrative games like video poker gambling
machines and the Golden Tee video golf games that would bring in
more money in a day than a pinball machine would generate in a
month, Stickney told the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1ksXnTz).
pinball may be making a comeback.
this photo taken on Feb. 26th pinball player Andy Thompson,
left, reacts to the end of a game as he and Rob Stickney,
right, engage in a practice session at Waun-A-Bowl in
Waunakee. The men took part in a tournament on last weekend at
the bowling alley and are part of a monthly traveling league
that meets in homes.
tournament that drew players from five states was held on a recent
Saturday in Waunakee while the Mad City Flippers Pinball League
formed last fall and has 20 players. They travel throughout southern
Wisconsin and play in the homes of pinball machine owners once a
month in cities that include Reedsburg, Waterloo, Madison, Black
Earth and Lodi.
is home to the Twisted Flippers Pinball League while the Appleton
area has the Fox Cities Pinball League. All the leagues keep
standings and amass points that qualify players for state and
national tournaments like the Professional and Amateur Pinball
Association World Championships held each August in Carnegie, Pa.
The event is held in a 30,000-square-foot facility jammed with 450
pinball machines, according to its website. The International
Flipper Pinball Association holds its U.S. tournament in May in
just the chaos," said Tim Enders, when asked why he likes
pinball. "Every game is going to be different."
43, of the town of Westport, is an industrial engineer at a fuel
controls manufacturer and has been playing since he was a kid
growing up in Madison. He can quickly rattle off some of his old,
now defunct, pinball haunts. They included Uncle Stanley's at
University Square, Shakey's Pizza on East Washington Avenue, Tom
Fooleries on Mineral Point Road and a backroom at the Stone Hearth
on South Park Street, where in 1977 a little-known rock band called
AC/DC performed before a crowd of 75 people.
now owns 11 pinball machines.
just builds from childhood," he said.
of the Mad City Flippers come from a cross section of professions.
Andy Thompson, 42, works at Woodman's Market on the West Side;
Hilton Jones, 35, is at Covance while Todd McIlwee, 42, manages the
Waun-A-Bowl, a 16-lane bowling alley attached to a Pizza Hut in
was McIlwee who started the Waun-A-Pinball tournament in 2011 after
meeting Steve Tully, a technician with Quarter Time Distributors, a
Waunakee-based vending company founded in 1932. Tully, who has been
with Quarter Time for 24 years, also loves his pinball and has 10
machines in his heated garage in Waterloo.
this photo taken on Feb. 26th Pinball enthusiasts, including
from left, Hilton Jones, Andy Thompson and Mike Sievert,
gather for a practice session at Waun-A-Bowl in Waunakee. The
men took part in a tournament on last weekend at the bowling
alley and are part of a monthly traveling league that meets in
thought it would be just Madison players here but now we have five
states represented," McIlwee said of the tournament. "It's
a hobby thing. Some guys work on their cars, some guys work on their
Saturday tournament, held in the bowling alley's banquet room, was
limited to 50 players, had eight people on the waiting list and a
purse of $750. Five pinball machines were used including Big Buck
Hunter, which features a deer that slides across the machine and
challenges players to hit it with a silver ball flicked from a
flipper. Other games included Operation Thunder, The Avengers, Judge
Dredd and Scared Stiff.
mix and match and try to change it up every year," Tully said.
"We set them harder for good players. If you don't, they're
going to (play) for 20 minutes on one ball."
54, grew up in Watertown, where his father was a minister. After
high school, he worked as an auto mechanic in Madison before
delivering for Pizza Pit and enrolling at what is now Herzing
College to study electronics. Tully's interest in pinball can be
traced to an aunt who had a pinball machine in her basement.
annual Waunakee tournaments have helped revive the game locally and
led to the formation of the traveling league. The pinball machines
can be in garages, basements, living rooms and dining rooms.
Sometimes in all four.
neat to have like-minded people together," Tully said.
"It's just kind of a childhood thing run amok."
get a peek at the pinball and other gaming worlds, Tully suggests a
trip to Brookfield on April 12 and 13 to the Midwest Gaming Classic,
a massive trade show and convention at the Sheraton Hotel, near
Brookfield Square. The event started in 2001 with console games but
now includes video arcade, pinball and tabletop games and fills a
40,000-square-foot convention hall.
is also getting a further boost locally.
Jones, who has 10 machines in the living and dining rooms of his
Madison home (yes, he's married), is putting four pinball machines
in April into Pooley's, a sports bar on Madison's Far East Side. In
September, the bar will host the Mad Rollin Pinball tournament that
raises money for cancer.
kind of the Godfather of pinball," Jones said of Tully.
"We just want to bring back real pinball.'"