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Pinball Outreach

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One of the things that the Silverball Sundays host, Joe Schall (aka "Pinball Joe"), enjoys most is pinball outreach, in particular by taking appropriately themed pins to community events with the machines set on free play. The most common questions Joe gets at these events are "Does anybody still make these?" and "What's a good high score?" So pinball outreach represents a form of community service and teaching others about pinball as well as a way to let people know that pinball is still alive and well, including both the preservation and restoration of retro machines and the creation of a handful of exciting new titles every year by several manufacturers. Some of these outreach events and a few highlights from each are described below.

Halloween and Friday the 13th

In 2018 on Halloween, Joe took Spooky Pinball's first title, "America's Most Haunted" (AMH), to his two alma maters: Juniata College and Penn State. AMH spirited its way to Juniata's dining hall in the afternoon and haunted the Penn State HUB's "Late Night" activities into the wee hours of the morning. Joe's favorite memory from Juniata was when a student grabbed the machine cabinet with both hands and said "This is a real machine. I mean this is a real machine. I thought pinball was just something you played online!" "No," Joe assured him: "The real machines came first." Joe's favorite part of the Penn State outing was seeing people playing while in costume. In October 2023 on Friday the 13th as an early Halloween treat, Joe took four pins and a multicade out for the neighbors to play in his neighborhood, and, well, 13 people showed up.




















Joe never thought that his passion for pinball would become something that could be integrated into his active church life, but after he took a machine to a church picnic and it was played constantly for hours, it was clear that "kids of all ages" enjoyed playing and welcomed the opportunity, and the church was very open to the idea. Since then, Joe has taken pins to State College Alliance Church for everything from picnics to youth Christmas parties to a joint Harvest Fest/Halloween celebration. Eventually Joe donated Stern Pinball's home editions of Star Wars and Jurassic Park machines to the church so they can be easily available on a regular basis for such activities, to which friends of church members are also invited. Joe's favorite parts of these events are watching families discovering and sharing the joy of pinball together and the exuberant comments from the kids. When Joe held up three balls in his hand to demonstrate that a machine had a three-ball multiball, an agog 6-year-old said, "How did you get the balls out of the machine!?" After playing different machines at multiple events, an 8-year-old confidently announced to Joe, "I can play any pinball machine. Just tell me where the jackpots and multiballs are and I can play any pin."






Two of Joe's favorite bands are RUSH and Led Zeppelin, and Stern Pinball has made machines devoted to both. In 2022, Joe took RUSH to a Harley Davidson dealership in Harrisburg for a concert by an excellent Pennsylvania-based RUSH tribute band, Solar Federation. Not only did Solar Federation fans enjoy some time assuming control of the silver ball, but during rehearsal before the concert all four band members took a break to play. (Yes, it takes at least four to recreate the sound of the original three that made up RUSH.) Playing Led Zeppelin was both a throwback experience and electrifying to those attending the annual "Rock the 80s" event, a benefit concert for the Bob Perks Cancer Assistance Fund, at State College's State Theatre in 2023. As modern pins, RUSH and Led Zeppelin are high-tech machines that allow players to choose from a selection of songs while playing, with each song having different objectives, and RUSH includes a high-definition LCD monitor that plays videos of live concert footage from the band as well as instructional and hilarious audio callouts recorded by the current band members. As a bonus, these machines can easily be rigged with an audio jack and a volume control knob in the coin door so that players can plug in, don earbuds or headphones, and jam.




Joe has taken pins to celebrations by local support groups that are vital to the diversity of the State College community. These include The Amazing Race, sponsored by the Acres Project, which supports adults with autism; the Central PA Night to Shine, a prom night experience for those with special needs; and the 3-21 Celebration Dance, held by the Centre Region Down Syndrome Society (CRDSS), with 3-21 representing the triplicate copy of the 21st chromosome possessed by all those with Down syndrome. Most recently, in October 2023, Joe took four pins to the CRDSS Buddy Walk, which is the largest fundraiser held by the CRDSS annually and which drew over 400 participants. What Joe has been struck by through these community-based celebrations is how effectively pinball outreach touches the hearts of both those fondly reliving their pinball pasts and those very special people who are often being introduced to pinball for the first time. It's uplifting to see how even those who have never played pinball before can do so with fearlessness, determination, and joy. At the central PA Night to Shine, memorably, one girl left the dance repeatedly to come back and play Cyclone eight times until she achieved a high score and got to put up her initials, then proudly posed for a photo. At the 3-21 Celebration Dance, supermom Kerri got a big kick out of watching her beloved daughter Kara freshly discover the allure of the silver ball and achieve an exciting four-ball multiball. At the Buddy Walk, the two carnival-themed pins (Cyclone and Hurricane) and the two movie-based pins (Star Wars and Jurassic Park) got constant play and brought abundant joy to "kids of all ages." 




































Star Wars Day

In case you've been living under a rock and you don't already know that May the 4th is nationally celebrated as "Star Wars Day," then let Joe be the first to say, "May the 4th be with you," cause you will need The Force to be in tune with the rest of us. Joe has taken a Star Wars Home Edition on several outings to celebrate Star Wars Day with all those who enjoy both playing pinball and pathetic puns. Notably, one of these outings was at Penn State's Pasquerilla Spiritual Center during finals week, which happened to fall on Star Wars Day in 2022. Penn State students took a much-needed study break to have some pizza and socialize as part of the Spiritual Center's regular events programming to encourage students to learn about the Center's resources, and some brave wannabees challenged their inner Skywalkers to see just how much they could trust their feelings when it came to keeping the ball in play and chasing down high scores. Stephen Le, who graduated that year and picked up the pinball bug while playing at locations in State College and competing in local tournaments, easily took down the Grand Champion score, while other dejected players new to the game wondered why the heck the ball just kept going SDTM (straight down the middle!), but yet they still came back for more punishment and learning. The more you play pinball, the more you realize that it's a game of acquired skill, not random luck, and the closer you get to being a Jedi pinball wizard. And on that note, "May the 4th be with you!"


An important part of pinball outreach is building community. While many pinheads understandably choose to keep their personal collections close to the vest just for themselves or a select group of friends to play, others invite friends and even strangers in to play for fun or they host "playdates" and informal tournaments. Joe has organized several such playdates in the Altoona area, which are generously hosted by a fellow enthusiast with a collection of over 50 machines in his basement. These events have drawn between 20 and 30 participants, and, just as with playdates organized by parents of young children, they provide a great opportunity to play, learn, share, socialize, and--of course--eat. Participants pay a set amount of money in exchange for hours of free play on all machines, and the host provides food. Thanks to the generosity of the host, players get to hone their skills and choose from a wide variety of titles while flipping for fun, being coaxed away from the machines occasionally to be certain everyone is sufficiently fed and watered. 

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