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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette Deborah Dull enjoyed playing pinball as a teenager, but has become more competitive in the past year, taking part in tournaments.

  • Carlee Dorman, 20, helps to run the women-only tournaments at Fort Wayne Pinball Wizards World on Lima Road.

  • Wizards World has increased its number of women-only tournaments because of their popularity.

  • Terri Richardson The Journal Gazette Dorman says she is seeing a lot more women come to play pinball at the arcade.

Sunday, August 04, 2019 1:00 am

Women have a ball at arcade

Pinball gaining popularity with tournaments

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Deborah Dull has a stack of quarters sitting on the corner of a pinball machine.

It's hard to hear her – or anyone else for that matter – over the loud dings, pings and electronic beeps and boops coming from the machines that line each wall and sit in the middle of Fort Wayne Pinball Wizards World on Lima Road. Dull is practicing for the women's tournament that is taking place at the arcade on a Friday night in early June.

The arcade hosts two women's tournaments a month – a response to a growing interest of women wanting to play pinball.

According to the International Flipper Pinball Association, which keeps track of pinball players' points and rankings worldwide, the interest in women-only events has grown in the last few years.

At the beginning of 2017, the IFPA launched the Women's World Pinball Player Rankings system, which not only tracks tournament and league results, but also offers a custom ranking system for women-only events. According to the tracking information, women's events and the number of women players more than doubled last year. As of May this year, the number of events and players had already surpassed the number for the entire year in 2017.

There are currently 2,108 women in the IFPA rankings based on those that have played in open tournaments. Of course, that is no where near the number of men who play pinball, but it is an improvement.

As of July 31, Dull was ranked 47th in the IFPA women's open tournament world rankings, and 1,250 overall based on points.

Dull started playing pinball about a year ago when her husband told her about the arcade. “It's something fun we can do together,” she says.

However, this Fort Wayne woman was far from a beginner. The 52-year-old played pinball as a teenager. She says she was never an arcade girl in the '80s, but she did love to play pinball. She played at the laundromat near her house.

Her favorite game at the Wizards World is the original “Black Knight” – the machine she played as a teen.

Dull does see an increase in female players, but there is still room to grow. “It's not part of (their) identity to win pinball,” Dull says of women.

However, she says it's nice to have the women's league. “It's not just the boys club,” Dull says.

For Carlee Dorman, her friends got her started playing pinball last year. The 20-year-old now helps run the arcade's women's tournaments. Last year the tournaments were once a month, but that changed this year when more women became involved. Dorman says about eight to 12 women come to play during the tournaments.

On this Friday night, about 10 women weave in and out of the crowd to find their designated machines to play. The women are given certain pinball machines to play and scores are totaled from those.

Dorman says she is seeing a lot more women participate as they are finding out about the tournaments. In addition, there is a good mix of younger and older women, she says.

Mike Burgess, owner of Wizards World arcade, says the number of pinball players in Fort Wayne is about one-third female. He says his best female player is not even a teen yet and he even has a female player who is ranked No. 22 in the state.

“Pinball is one of those sports that gender doesn't matter,” he says.

Burgess says he is doing what he can to help grow the number of women players by hosting women-only tournaments and helping to cover state tournament fees.

And Dorman says women shouldn't be worried about not being good at playing pinball. “You don't have to be great to have a good time,” she says.

After all, while her parents played pinball when they were younger, Dorman had never touched a flipper until last summer.

And since more young people are embracing retro items, pinball, Dorman says, is just one of many items finding its place on the list. “It's a great time for things to come back.”