Pinball EDU Charity, 501(c)3

November Raffle Winner

Congratulations to Troy Swope of North Canton, Ohio for winning this month’s pinball raffle! You have a New In Box Stern Pinball Machine coming to your door!

Also, congrats to:

Mitchell Hohler for winning the Simpsons Pinball Party Translight
Brian Webber you won a translight for being this months biggest buyer!

Thank you to Stern Pinball for donating the additional prizes!

A big thank you to everyone that participated in our November raffle.  Your support is helping to open the first Pinball Education Center helping kids with autism.


Bringing Back Pinball: Sharpe’s Story

ss-hammerPinball had been officially banned by New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia as a form of gambling since January of 1942. Claiming pinball robbed the “pockets of schoolchildren in the form of nickels and dimes given them as lunch money”, he ordered them seized and destroyed. Other cities, including pinball’s home city of Chicago, followed suit but pinball did not disappear. Rather, it was kept alive over the next thirty years in primarily underground, seedy locations that were often subject to police raids.

ss-pinballDuring this time the machines changed significantly. The introduction of the flipper in 1947 dramatically altered the way the game was played, adding a new and distinct skill component. By 1976 the Music and Amusement Association (MAA) successfully lobbied the New York City Council and was granted a hearing to re-examine the legitimacy of the ban. Their goal was simple — to prove to the Council that pinball was a game of skill, not chance.

Roger Sharpe, a 26 year-old magazine editor and renowned pinball player, was chosen by the MAA to demonstrate this skill. Sharpe gave a compelling speech arguing that pinball did not rely on arbitrariness or luck, but instead was a predominantly player-controlled game. Surrounded by journalists, photographers, and City Council members, Sharpe began to play. Despite an impressive game, the anti-pinball contingent was not swayed.

Then, in what he has compared to Babe Ruth’s called shot to center field, Roger Sharpe pulled back the plunger and, pointing to the top of the playing field, declared that he would shoot the ball through the top middle lane. He released the plunger and the ball followed his prescribed course. The Council immediately overturned the ban in a unanimous 6-0 vote.

On August 1, 1976, Sharpe’s birthday, Mayor Abraham Beame signed the new law making pinball legal once again.


Original Photograph, New York City, April 1976 Roger Sharpe playing ‘Bank Shot’ by Gottlieb®

Building on Strengths – from a Mother of a child with Autism

kathyI am the parent of a 27 year old young man with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. When he was diagnosed at about the age of 3, it seemed that very few people knew what it was and the information that was available, mostly through books I found in the library, painted a very dire prognosis. It seemed that if we were lucky, Robert might be able to speak a bit one day, but it would be unlikely if he could learn to read or write beyond maybe writing his name. Back then, there weren’t a lot of therapies available specifically for autism, at least not at a huge expense to the family. We did get support, such as a child care worker a couple of hours a week, but it wasn’t coordinated or therapy-based like many services are now. In hindsight, I guess our “therapies”, without realizing that is what they could be called, were things like watching the neighbourhood kids encourage him to play with them, including informally organizing among themselves who would hold his hand and lead him along in Tag, Hide-and-Seek and other games, and encouraging and scolding him along the way (social skills group!), and asking the child care worker to take him to noisy, crowded places to “make him get used to it” (sensory integration!). He had private and school-based speech therapy, but being forced into these natural environments played a role in his progress too.

This leads me to the main point of indulging in passions. Robert’s passions have changed over the years and have included Exit signs, fire alarms (I am glad he grew out of that stage where he followed the “Pull Alarm” directions!), traffic lights, an interest in numbers such as telephone codes, to themes popular with more people such as hockey and sports statistics, Nintendo characters and video games, and then pinball. He continues to be interested in a lot of cartoons and things from his childhood, so maintains a kind of childlike wonder and curiosity about him which I hope he doesn’t lose completely. Through various ways, these passions and interests have further allowed him to connect with people and we and his teachers used them to help develop reading skills. From his intensity of the interests, we learned just how incredible his memory is. For example, he memorized hundreds of four-digit codes for businesses and services and often could recite their messages even though his spontaneous language was still pretty sparse. His passions were often things he was obviously talented at, such as being the first kid on the block to reach the end of a Nintendo game, and no one could figure out why he was able to rapidly multiply numbers in his head without any formal teaching or practice.

Pinball has been the biggest and longest-lasting passion and has led to many great things in Robert’s life. We noticed he liked it when he was around 5, but the level of interest didn’t seem extreme, or at the most was something that seemed to wax and wan like other interests, but we did realize that he was good at it but honestly figured it wasn’t anything more than “probably above average”. At one point, when he was 10, we actually bought an older pinball machine and he played it a lot for a few months but lost interest in favour of a Nintendo version of pinball, for which he set a world-record, and so we covered the machine with a blanket, the cats slept on it, and we uncovered it again when he was about 19, so we could sell it. He started to play it again, and it coincided with the time that a pinball company, Stern, was starting to make more pinball machines and trying to revive interest in it. This lead to him entering his first tournament, The Canadian Pinball Championships, about 7 years ago, in Toronto where his dad just happened to be travelling to on business. He didn’t win, but did well enough and had fun enough to get bitten by the tournament bug. Since then, he has entered over 100 tournaments, including travelling to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and even Italy. We joke that the 3 hour drive to Seattle every month doesn’t count since it is “local”.

Wizard Mode Documentary

I credit pinball with a huge leap in Robert’s development over the past five years. For him, he has to deal with his noise sensitivity, since the sound of many pinball machines (sometimes literally hundreds of them) being played at once is almost deafening, specific fears and unpleasant situations such as waiting in lineups and going through airport security, social skills including sportsmanship, emotions such as disappointment and sadness such as when he doesn’t play as well as he would like, so basically all the “natural therapies” I talked about in the first paragraph. Most importantly it has brought great joy to him, he has made many new acquaintances and friends, challenged himself with communicating with other players who speak different languages, improved his focus and concentration, and has had opportunities to appear on television, in newspaper articles and radio interviews, public speaking and now a feature-length film documentary. He has found a group of people who are sometimes competitive with each other in the tournaments but also supportive and accepting of each other, and share his passion for pinball so there are always things to talk about. He is now among the top ten players in the world out of over 30,000 competitive players, including being the current US National Champion. It hasn’t been easy for him, or us, but through the film we are hoping people will realize there are more similarities to the “non-ASD” population than differences, and although Robert finds ASD to be a pain-in-the-butt at times, he has learned to make use of his strengths, and hopes you will find his story inspirational.

The take home points are: Don’t give up, because early testing isn’t always predictive of the future years, Encourage and Indulge in the passions and interests, and Enjoy all the little and big successes along the way. Your child’s passion is probably not pinball, nor am I saying it is a new therapy, but almost any passion can turn into something that could potentially be therapeutic and lead to friendships based on the mutual interest other people have in it.

Kathy Gagno is one of the advisors for Pinball EDU, a non-for-profit connecting kids with disabilities and pinball.  Her professional background includes special education, and she currently practices as a certified school psychologist.

Find her online at:

A film about a Pinball player with Autism.

In June 2015, we talked in detail about Robert Gagno one of Pinball EDU’s big inspirations and the benefits Robert received from having pinball in his life.  Now there’s a film coming out about Robert’s life!

Please watch the trailer below, and don’t forget to share it with your family and friends. Thanks!

WIZARD MODE from Salazar on Vimeo.


The Pinball EDU Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity with the mission to utilize the wonderful and unique game of Pinball for the social enrichment, skill development and education of kids and young adults.

For more information about Pinball EDU, please visit, email to join their mailing list or find them on facebook at

Robert Gagno, a pinball player with autism.

Robert’s Pinball Story

written by Cristin Gasson & Joe Said

robert-gagno-04Robert Gagno began playing pinball when he was 3 or 4 years old. He would frequently accompany his father, Maurizio on errands or be taken out for short periods by a child care worker. Whenever possible Robert would steer his adult companions to the pinball machines at places like the bowling alley and Chuck E. Cheese. Kathy his mom clearly remembers her husband and Robert’s other caregiver commenting on how Robert would choose to spend all his time playing pinball or Wack-A-Mole at these locations. Between the ages of 5-8 years, Robert not only loved pinball, but he began consistently achieving the coveted “replay” due to his growing level of skill on the machines.  Kathy loved pinball herself and was happy to see Robert enjoy playing but remembers a ferry ride as the first time she began to understand just how good Robert really was.

“When he was around nine years old,  I remember the ferries used to have little arcades on them, including pinball. Robert spent a whole trip across to Vancouver Island, about an hour and half trip, playing pinball on one quarter.  I was sitting on a bench just outside of the arcade and could hear people talking about “that kid and pinball”. He had drawn quite a big crowd.”

Robert’s parents purchased his first home use pinball machine, “Whirlwind”, when he was 10 and watched  him spend hours a day playing for several months. That same year Robert loved playing Pokemon Pinball for Nintendo DS and set a high-score record that may still stand today. Robert’s interest in Whirlwind waned although he continued to play casually at locations and the home use machine was eventually covered for storage. The family decided to put it up for sale on craigslist when Robert was 19. To their surprise, once uncovered, Robert immediately began playing Whirlwind with renewed enthusiasm and the Gagno’s decided to keep it.

Kathy says the rest of Robert’s story is probably more well known, “Maurizio took Robert to Toronto with him to play in his first tournament ever (The Canadian Pinball Championships) and it was after that we joined the VRPA and started going to more tournaments.”

“More well known” is most certainly a modest statement.  Robert entered the competitive pinball community finishing 12th out of 99 competitors at this highly competitive tournament in 2008 and has actively competed since. He’s currently ranked as the 6th best pinball player in the world, according to the International Flipper Pinball Association and he’s #1 in Canada. Robert’s story has drawn the attention of many inside the pinball community as well as the world beyond. He has been featured in countless articles and his pinball playing skills were highlighted in an episode of Science Channel’s “Ingenious Minds” series.

Kathy says pinball has helped Robert’s development in many ways.

Social Skills
“He has/has had other areas of intense interest: Hockey stats, game show episodes and stats, transit schedules….pretty well anything with numbers he could easily memorize but not something most people could take an interest in. Suddenly with pinball he has found a group of people who like talking about it as much as he does.  He has evolved since he was about 19 from someone who would talk AT you about pinball, to someone who interacts with the other players. It has improved things like turn taking, sportsmanship, and learning to be more tactful.”

“His attention and perseverance have both improved. He is not into the WPPR points as much as some people think, but really likes to win or do well.  He sets goals for himself, like before going to PAPA this year set the lofty goal of qualifying for all three Classics plus the A-division, and achieved it.”

While visual memory has always been a strength for Robert, Kathy reports it has gotten even better with the challenge of learning new pinball games and rule sets.

“Although it is still hard for him, he is learning to “shift strategies” such as when a pinball doesn’t work quite the way it should, or when he is in situation where he needs to play “safe” and grind it out, vs. risky but higher scoring shots.”

Robert’s sensory sensitivities and the anxiety he experiences when overstimulated have been one of his biggest struggles. Pinball has motivated him to learn coping strategies and helped him develop higher tolerance thresholds.

“The noise in pinball tournaments and arcades has helped him learn to tolerate his over-sensitivities to sounds. He used to avoid any physical contact, but now high-fives, shakes hands and even allows a few players to hug him. He is very nervous of going through security at airports and for that reason doesn’t go to that many out of town tournaments beyond Seattle and Portland.  He did say he will fly to go to Pinburgh again though! So the anxiety piece is still something we are working on, but definitely pinball has helped to give him confidence and make that better too.”

Thanks to Kathy Gagno for helping put this article together.


Robert is one of inspirations for the Pinball EDU Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity with the mission to utilize the wonderful and unique game of Pinball for the social enrichment, skill development and education of kids and young adults.

For more information about Pinball EDU, please visit, email to join their mailing list or find them on facebook at

Educational Pinball on “Seen In NY”

NEW YORK, NY – Columbia University embraced Modern Pinball NYC’s education program and pinball physics class trip with an exclusive video produced by Columbia and disseminated to teachers and professors in their Teachers College. (Link to video below.) stevez1Steven Zahler, who developed the unique education program at Modern Pinball NYC, works with teachers to create a hands-on field trip for students, where they open up real working pinball machines to examine the changing technology, electromagnets, circuits, electricity, and physical properties operating above and below the playfield. It’s a way of hiding science in the game, he explains. And as predicted, once the students understand the properties at work, playing and learning become a lot more focused. . . and a lot more fun. For more information about Modern Pinball and their class trips for New York City Educators see:

Pinball Done Quick!

This January 3rd through 11th 2015 at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport, a special event is happening in the world of gaming. Games Done Quick is a charity event wherein players attempt to achieve difficult gaming achievements using the shortest amount of time possible.


Tune in starting January 4th at 12pm EST: