They came from 'round the world to play the silver ball. From Sweden down to South Side, they must have played them all; they came to Scott last weekend; they sure came to play pinball.
More than 400 pinball machines were beeping, whirring, and sometimes tilting last weekend as players, some from as far away as Sweden, took up the challenge of playing in the Pinburgh 2012 Match Play Championship, a three-day tournament sponsored by PAPA, the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association.
The Pinburgh tournament is held once a year in a 40,000-square-foot industrial warehouse in Scott that has been converted into hosting one of the largest collections of working pinball machines ever assembled.
The tournament attracted 276 players this year, up from 174 last year, organizers said. Players matched their skills using a variety of pinball machines acquired by Kevin Martin.
Mr. Martin, who founded the Web-hosting company called pair Networks Inc., headquartered on the South Side, spent years scouring the country to buy pinball machines for his collection. Some are vintage machines dating to the 1970s and even the 1950s.
"I always loved playing pinball, especially when I was in college," he said.
He bought the Scott building in 2004, a former sausage-making facility and food-packaging plant, then refurbished it with the intent to store his machines and hold tournaments sponsored by PAPA, of which he is president.
While the tournament was the main focus of the weekend event, the public could play machines set aside for those who did not enter the competition. Admission was free, and proceeds from the sale of play tokens went to charity. Last year, the event raised $12,550 for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. This year more than $14,400 was raised.
Valarie McGoogan, a former Scott resident who now lives in Zelienople, was visiting the tournament for the first time and said she enjoyed playing the pinball machines set aside for the public.
"I am very pleased they did this. There's no entrance fee, and I like the fact money from the tokens is going to charity. It's not like you have to pay $25 just to get in," she said.
Mike Hovraluck of Dormont, Mike Kovach of the South Side, and Drew Westphal of Bethel Park all said they came to play pinball and liked the fact there were machines here to play that were hard to find anywhere else.
Joe Scaletta of Mars, a member of the Pittsburgh Pinball League, entered the tournament and on Saturday was ranked among the top 10 players. Pete Hendricks of Washington, Pa., another member of the Pittsburgh League, came with his wife, Virginia. He said he wasn't doing as well in this year's tournament as he had last year, but he was still enjoying himself. "Our league has the second-largest membership in the country, after Seattle," he said.
Bowen Kerins, director of the tournament, said good pinball players not only need good eye-hand coordination, but also a lot of stamina to last through many rounds of tournament play.
Mr. Martin said he likes that the tournaments become a social event for people who love pinball.
"Some players came from as far away as Sweden. Pinball is very big in Europe," he said. And for many it is a nostalgic event. They come to see the machines they played when they were young, he said. But the tournaments also attract a good number of young people.
Mr. Kerins said last year's winner in the junior division was a 6-year-old.
Winners this year were all out-of-towners: Adam Becker, Toronto, (Pinburgh 2012 Match Play Champion), first; Trent Augenstine, Delaware, Ohio, second; Karl DeAngelo, southern California, third; Dave Stewart, eastern Maryland, fourth.
Andy Rosa traveled with his 12-year-old son, Andrew, from Michigan, and both signed up to play in this year's tournament.
The facility is open to the public only for tournaments but can be booked for events.
Along with the Pinburgh tournament, other tournaments are being held this year around the country, and many of the best players from those tournaments will be headed to Scott Aug. 9-12 to play in the PAPA 15 World Pinball Championship.
Bob Podurgiel, freelance, firstname.lastname@example.org.