Chandler female pinball wizards in tourney - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler female pinball wizards in tourney

February 4th, 2020 development
Chandler female pinball wizards in tourney

By Haley Lorenzen

Among rows of flashing pinball machines along with the sounds of flippers and bumpers reverberating throughout Starfighters Arcade in Mesa, 16 women competed to become the first Arizona women’s pinball champion.

But only one would claim the crown: Sun City resident Lee Ann Scardina, with Chandler resident Tracy Lindbergh taking second place, Terri Boyd in third place, and Chandler resident Mary Lopez in fourth place.

The Arizona Women’s Pinball State Championship, the first specifically for women competitors in Arizona, was organized by a local women’s pinball group, Belles & Chimes.

“We’re both all trying to win and yet so supportive of each other getting better and playing well. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a pretty wonderful group of women,” said Lindbergh, the Belles & Chimes Phoenix founder.

Lindbergh, who founded the chapter in 2017, has played pinball most of her life.

“I was playing as a teenager. I was very drawn to pinball, but in hindsight, I had no clue what I was doing,” she said.

The first Belles & Chimes chapter was founded in Oakland, California, in 2013 and has since grown to 21 chapters worldwide.

Until the Phoenix chapter was founded, Lindbergh said there weren’t a lot of options for playing competitive pinball in the Valley – especially for women. Lindbergh said when she began dating her husband, they began playing pinball together and were soon looking for competitions to enter.

“When we started dating, he loved pinball,” she recalled. “So, it was just sort of a natural thing we would play pinball. We would go out, but machines were very hard to find when we were dating.

“There were not a lot of places to play in the Valley. There’d be like one machine in this bar, and it was broken, and one over there, and it was broken,” she said.

She added, “There was very little pinball here, though, maybe one tournament a month. And so, we started to travel, we would go to Vegas, or we’d go to California for tournaments, just because we wanted to play more.”

Eventually, Lindbergh heard about the Oakland chapter of Belles & Chimes and contacted them to see if they minded if she started one in Phoenix.

Since then, Belles & Chimes Phoenix has grown to almost 60 members who get together each for monthly tournaments. The women not only compete with each other, but they also teach, learn and form new friendships.

“It’s the community, the friendships. Belles & Chimes is a way for women, not that there’s an advantage or disadvantage for being a male in pinball, but I think the relationships we build in a smaller group of just women is different,” said Mesa resident Kathy Lovato, a Belles & Chimes member who owns Starfighters Arcade.

“The environment itself is just different and it becomes more a friendly competition and like family, like sisters, not just competitors,” she added.

Starfighters Arcade is one of the few spots Belles & Chimes meets each month to practice and compete. The arcade itself, located in East Mesa, was founded in 2014 by Lovato and her husband.

Lovato said she was never a huge fan of pinball, as she preferred playing traditional upright arcade games, but said she was encouraged to join Belles & Chimes by her husband.

“When we opened, we had a few pinball machines, and then we had some pinball people coming in saying we can help you fix games, you know, pinball is getting big,” she said.

“I think Tracy started coming in and then I think we just kept buying pinball machines and more people came in, and then Tracy said, ‘I’m going to start a league.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, cool.’ And my husband said I should play. I’m very competitive. It doesn’t matter what it is, I’ll compete,” Lovato said.

Although interest in competitive pinball is growing, the International Flipper Pinball Association reported in 2016 fewer than 10 percent of competitive pinball players are women.

“When I first started, the first tournament I went to there was one other female,” Lindbergh said, adding:

“If I hadn’t been there with my husband as my support system, I would have felt very nervous in a room full of a bunch of guys I don’t know. It’s like an interesting challenge for women which maybe isn’t evident to men, how hard it might be to just walk into a room of guys and try to join the competitive landscape.”

As groups such as Belles & Chimes have continued to grow, the number of women involved in competitive pinball has skyrocketed, with the IFPA reporting a 14 percent increase in female representation.

Kirsten Drozdowski, a Chandler resident and member of Belles & Chimes, said she has been playing pinball as long as she’s “been alive.”

Her favorite part of playing pinball with Belles & Chimes is the learning experience, as she said she isn’t a super competitive person.

“As an adult, I think it’s a little harder to find stuff you’re interested in and take courageous steps to go out and try it. And, you know, it would be my message to everybody is it’s such a low-risk activity to try. I mean, it’s pinball. Come just have fun,” she said.

Michelle Pack, one of the co-founders of Belles & Chimes, also said she enjoys being a part of a group in which not only has healthy competition but also provides a safe learning environment. 

“We coach each other. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, we help them. I’ve learned a lot from these women, everybody here is like a family,” she said.

Although this year’s championship, sponsored by Scottsdale law firm Davis Blase Stone & Holder, has come to a close, the women of Belles & Chimes hope to compete in many more championships as the group grows.

“It’s amazing how different and how wonderful it is. It’s very supportive, even while we’re being competitive, it’s like, I want to win, but I’m so happy for you when you win. Like if you beat me, I’m so happy you did that,” Lindbergh said.