- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - Chris Hancock yelped in frustration when the ball he was attempting to guide through the maze of a pinball machine failed to obey his commands.

Hancock, 55, was one of several people competing in the Bumper Bash tournament in the Roanoke Pinball Museum on the afternoon of June 19. Though many of the players were museum regulars, this was Hancock’s first time. His daughter brought him to the event as a Father’s Day gift.

Though he was a newcomer, it was clear to Hancock, of Moneta, why people like it. “Lights and bells and whistles,” he said, looking around the room, which might cause sensory overload for some.

The Roanoke Pinball Museum opened in Center in the Square exactly one year ago on June 19, and it held a tournament to mark the occasion.

The tournament was set up like a round of golf, with participants playing on nine machines and trying to reach a certain score with as few balls as possible. A tenth machine was included in case there was need for a tie-breaker.

Chris Rader, the museum’s manager, said the tournament served as a way to commemorate the anniversary while engaging the pinball faithful with something new: competition.

“We really haven’t had that much official competitive events going on here, and we thought it would be a good time to sort of dip our toes into that and see how it goes and see how people like it,” he said.

The year that the museum has been open went by quickly, Rader said. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the support from the community and the distance that some people travel to visit it.

Rader said he believes the nostalgia factor is a big draw, but it’s also, put simply, that a museum full of pinball machines is pretty fun.

“There’s not really any way you can come in here and not have fun,” Rader said.

The ten machines used for the tournament varied in style, manufacturer and age, which accounts for the drastic difference - 300 versus 12,000,000 - in the scores competitors were tasked with reaching on each machine.

The two oldest machines in the group were Kings & Queens and Melody, both from the 1960s. Gottlieb, Williams and Bally, three of the most prominent manufacturers, were all represented, Rader said.

The tournament gave Greg Kuetemeier, 42, and his wife, Sarah, an opportunity to get even more competitive. The two are regulars at the museum - they got their memberships on its opening night - and can get a little intense, taking pictures and posting their scores on social media.

The couple lives in Salem and said the museum usually brings them to downtown Roanoke once a week. Recently they’ve been focusing on the machines that would be in the tournament for preparation, Kuetemeier said.

The pinball museum has an element of familiarity for Arthur Burch, 64. He and his wife used to play when they first started dating, and he grew up playing pinball, on some of the very same machines featured in the museum.

“This was like the video game of the ‘70s,” he said.

Sunday was the first time Burch had played in a pinball tournament since the 1980s. He said he hopes the museum, which he visits regularly as a member, will hold more in the future.

His favorite machine in the museum is one made by Bally with a KISS theme, and it was among the ten included in the tournament. Burch said he likes the machine because of its speed.

“It’s an older machine, but it still has a modern feel to it,” he said.

River Hawwa, 27, said she came a little early on Sunday to get in some practice time.

She lives in Blacksburg, but tries to make a trip up to the museum once a week. The museum is fun and a good deal, Hawwa said, and the air conditioning is a plus, too.

“It reminds us of the arcades back in the day,” she said.

Jim Sears, president and general manager of Center in the Square, said it feels wonderful to be celebrating one year of the museum, to which patrons from near and far have responded well.

“It has brought a new element to the Roanoke region,” Sears said.

He was also pleased with the museum’s financial success. He previously estimated that from June 2015 through April, the museum saw 23,600 visitors and brought in more than $142,000, with $31,518 left after expenses. He expects that number will at least double next year, since they won’t have to make the same initial investment into the machines made in the first year.

“A museum is a business,” Sears said, so they’re always looking for ways to improve, such as bringing in different machines, expanding their hours or holding more events like Sunday’s tournament.

What Sears loves about the pinball museum is that everyone, whether a child or a great-grandmother, can enjoy the machines, and everyone gets that same look of concentration on their face when they play, he said.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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