By Colleen Sparks
East Valley women attracted to the flashing lights and fun competition of pinball games are out to prove they can keep up with the boys.
Tracy Lindbergh of Chandler started a women-only Belles & Chimes Phoenix-area pinball league that will meet at The Grid: Games and Growlers in Mesa at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, and Tilt Studio at Arizona Mills in Tempe on March 30.
Belles & Chimes is a pinball league exclusively for women with chapters around the country that started in Oakland, California, in 2013.
Like its parent, the new club’s goal is to bring together women of all pinball skill levels in a supportive, fun environment where they can learn from each other, make friends and participate in competitions.
“I like to play anywhere there’s a pinball machine,” Lindbergh, 38, said. “I love playing competitively. “I just don’t see enough women playing pinball.”
Already 20 women have contacted Lindbergh about joining Belles & Chimes locally with about a third of them from Tempe, Mesa and Chandler.
Lindbergh already runs a Tuesday night pinball league for men and women at Tilt and said she believes there is no physical reason why women can’t play pinball as well as men. She started playing pinball at age 13 and is ranked 11th overall in Arizona among men and women, and 73rd in the world just among women.
Mary Lopez, 52, of Chandler, is excited to socialize with other women when the Belles & Chimes club starts playing. She started playing pinball in high school in New Jersey.
“At the time, it was more of a social gathering,” said Lopez, a registered nurse. “We all went down to the local candy shop, which had a pinball machine and that’s where we all met.”
Now she likes playing on her pinball machine at home with her sons, ages 19, 21 and 23, as a fun stress release.
“If I’m playing pinball, that’s all I’m thinking about is the pinball machine,” Lopez said. “I’m not thinking about the world around me.”
Amber Crabtree, 27, of Mesa, started coming to the Tuesday night coed pinball league at Tilt with a male friend and is eager to participate in Belles & Chimes.
“I’ve always just been drawn to pinball,” said Crabtree, a full-time student at GateWay Community College. “It’s really neat the way they set up the games and every game has different rules. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as competitive pinball.”
Men dominate pinball competitions around the world but women are getting more involved, said Josh Sharpe, president of the International Flipper Pinball Association, which is based in Illinois. The organization maintains official pinball players’ competitive rankings at the state, national and international level.
Sharpe said only about 10% of competitive pinball players are women in the world. However, he said the IFPA started a women’s world championship last year and began a women’s ranking system a month ago to encourage more female players to compete.
As of the end of last year, the IFPA was ranking close to 50,000 players around the world, an increase of about 20% from the end of 2015.
“Belles & Chimes has been able to do really well in giving an atmosphere that is embracing women as sort of a gateway into that world,” Sharpe said.
He and Lindbergh said the pictures of “scantily clad” women on pinball machines in the past and the fact the games were usually in bars tended to attract mostly men over the years. Lindbergh said the games are getting more politically correct and fun for women, including one of her favorite games at Tilt, “Game of Thrones,” based on the popular TV show.
Lindbergh said she loves the “Game of Thrones” pinball machine because of the “rule set” and excitement of advancing further into the game.
She’s quick to offer tips to help other players: move the machine, but don’t shove it too hard in order to steer the silver ball; strategize about where to hit the silver ball and aim it in that direction; if you miss the ball, regain control of it quickly.
“You have to think fast,” she said. “Every game has different rules.”
Lindbergh loves the social aspect of pinball and enjoys playing with her husband, Mark, who’s also a competitive player, at Tilt and on the couple’s 14 pinball machines at home. She also plays at The Grid: Games and Growlers, as well as Starfighters Arcade in Mesa, and Cobra Arcade Bar and Alice Cooperstown restaurant in Phoenix.
Tilt has 21 pinball machines, including one unveiled at a recent tournament and launch party, Batman ’66 Anniversary Edition, which shows clips of the original “Batman” TV show.
Nancy Roggio, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident and vice president of marketing at Tilt in Tempe, said she saw many women playing pinball at the tournament earlier this month. Roggio believes people enjoy the carnival-type atmosphere of pinball and playing a hands-on game.
Henry Hanshaw of Gilbert, a friend of Lindbergh and her husband, enjoys the Tuesday night league at Tilt and he’s happy to hear a Belles & Chimes group is starting soon. He said he enjoys playing pinball with his 14-year-old daughter.
“That’s something new and it’s exciting,” Hanshaw, 43, said of the new club. “Everybody learns together.”
To find out more about the Belles & Chimes Phoenix league, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the group facebook.com/groups/bellesphoenix.