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The array of pinball machines on the upper balcony of The Avenue Cafe. Participants will play on these machines and their entry fees will be donated to charity.
“Star Wars,” “Ghostbusters,” “Star Trek,” “The Simpsons,” “Lord of the Rings,” and numerous other familiar titles sit neatly in rows on Lansing’s East Side—but not in a video rental store, they’re pinball machines lining the walls of the Avenue Café.
On Dec. 27, it’s likely all 23 of the café’s machines will be feverishly flashing and chiming during the annual Silver Balls in the City charity pinball tournament.
This is the third year the Lansing Pinball League will host the annual Capital Area Humane Society (CAHS) benefit. Each entrant pays a $10 fee to play, but it’s not about turning a profit, according to event organizer Heather Kendrick.
“I don’t take any of my costs out, [the CAHS] gets all of that,” said the frugal Kendrick, who even designs and creates the awards to save on costs. “I make holidaythemed trophies. They’ll be painted with glittering silver paint and have Christmas knick-knacks on top,” she added.
Being the host to this, and other pinball events, comes naturally to Kendrick, a devotee to the game.
“My favorite game at the Avenue Café is ‘Attack From Mars,’” said Kendrick, who spends hours traveling the state chasing her hobby. “I play a lot of pinball. I’m in four leagues.”
Kendrick, 43, is also senior lecturer of philosophy at Central Michigan University, which further ties into her love of animals. Her teachings include “ethics as it pertains to animals” and “animal welfare issues,” she explained.
“It’s a charity I believe in,” said Kendrick, who’s owned two rescue rabbits – Hazel and the General – from CAHS. “Animals are a part of my professional and private life.”
Until recently, Kendrick had another rescued rabbit named Columbo.
“He died very suddenly,” she said. “I hope the tournament will be an opportunity to honor his memory with a big donation to CAHS.”
For those looking to partake in the roundrobin tourney, each participant will have a few chances to take the crown and score some real recognition, since the Lansing Pinball League is endorsed by the International Flipper Pinball Association, a badge of honor the local league acquired in November 2014.
“The tournament forum is three strikes, you play until you have three losses,” Kendrick said. “The tournament is also officiated and sanctioned, so people can get world ranking points.”
First timers are welcome to say hello to Kendrick at the Silver Balls event, and she won’t be hard to spot, either. “I’ll be wearing a deer antler hat,” she promised. “I don’t need much of an excuse to wear something goofy.”
Kendrick, who has lived on Lansing’s East Side since 1999, lives with her husband Joseph Nebus, a fellow league member. Kendrick, who said “Michigan is considered one of the big states for pinball,” is ranked 814th in the world and 16th in the state, but you don’t have to be a pinball wizard to sign up for the Lansing Pinball League. The casual and fun group meets two Tuesdays each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Avenue Café. The next gathering is Jan. 9. For the complete schedule, visit lansingpinleague.com.
“We welcome people of all skills and levels,” Kendrick said. “It’s a chance to play with a variety of players and anyone who plays in it will become a world ranked pinball player.”