The jukebox cranked some loud rock as players leaned in and fixed their eyes on a small silver ball.
By LAURA BAUER
The Kansas City Star
One ball jetted to the left, then the right. Up and around and back to the left. A trained and experienced hand on another machine completed a bounce pass. Another player shook off a bad move and kept the ball in play.
OK. So this was intense.
And, mind you, it was pinball. The game of seemingly everyones youth. A fun arcade pastime that for some got pushed aside for flashy video games with cool graphics.
But the players inside the 403 Club in Kansas City, Kan., on Saturday werent just your average enthusiasts. This was the Kansas State Pinball Championship, with the 16 top players from parts of Kansas and Missouri, after all. There was a lot on the line.
Whoever took it all would go to Denver, representing Kansas at the national championship in May.
Even so, the intensity stayed between player and machine.
There are no heroes and villains, said Don Brownback, the Kansas state pinball representative and ninth seed in Saturdays competition. Typically we all know each other.
Phil Cridlebaugh, the first seed and Brownbacks opponent in the quarterfinals, agreed: Theres seldom hurt feelings at an event. Everybodys here to have a good time.
However, theres is that competitiveness.
As Cridlebaugh continued to talk, explaining how he started playing competitively about three years ago, Brownback headed off to start another game in their round. At that point, their scores were close, which is why Cridlebaugh couldnt help but peek over to see Brownbacks progress.
When his opponent finished, Cridlebaugh offered up a great play.
He scored about 5 million points on that one, Cridlebaugh said.
So many of the competitors played the game as kids, learning from their parents. And as the competitors aged and pinball saw a resurgence they kept playing.
Its just something fun that gets you out of the house, said Stu Allison, 34 of Mission. He made it to the quarterfinals, where he lost to Steve Hill of Kansas City. You get out and meet people. Youre not sitting at home playing video games on the couch.
Just before 5 p.m. Saturday, the semifinals commenced in a dark corner of the club. The two players Hill and Jason Scheffelmaer stayed pretty quiet and focused.
So was nearly everybody else in the bar as another semifinal round played out. Others played consolation games.
On a television overhead, the University of Kansas was beating West Virginia with just nine minutes to go. No one noticed. Only pinball mattered.
Nice shot, Hill said to Scheffelmaer as he worked the Ripleys Believe it or Not machine.
Ive missed that all night, said a smiling Scheffelmaer, 34, of Olathe.
Until this game, Hill answered, much to his chagrin.
Like Hill, Scheffelmaer has been hooked on pinball since he was a kid. I put way more quarters in pinball than arcade games, he said.
Scheffelmaer came into this championship the second seed, Hill the third. And the other two in the semis Cridlebaugh and Artie Scholes, who owns the 403 Club, were first and fourth, so the rankings played true.
In the end, after hours of pinball, Hill finished third and Scholes fourth.
The finals? The second seed, Scheffelmaer, beat first seed Cridlebaugh.
Its on to Denver for the man from Olathe.