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“I 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 pinball machines.”

The 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.

“We 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.”

Tully, 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.

The 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.

“It’s neat to have like-minded people together,” Tully said. “It’s just kind of a childhood thing run amok.”

To 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.

Pinball is also getting a further boost locally.

Hilton 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.

Steve’s kind of the Godfather of pinball,” Jones said of Tully. “We just want to bring back real pinball.’”

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Online:

Midwest Gaming Classic: https://www.midwestgamingclassic.com

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj