Updated: Feb 24, 2019
Remember asking your parents for four quarters or a few bucks to play pinball games at the arcade when you were a kid? Do you want to feel that Nostalgia? Head over to Spinners Pinball Arcade, pay $10 at the door for all you can play. That's right no quarters necessary and you can play for as long as you want.
Spinners isn’t just a pinball arcade, it’s an all-inclusive pinball education and learning center whose mission is to “Utilize the wonderful and unique game of pinball for the social enrichment, skill development and education of kids and young adults.”
Spinners Pinball Arcade, a 13,000 square foot space that houses roughly 25 working pinball machines from every era of the game as well as Nintendo on the big screen TV, 3D Pinball on the big screen TV, A Virtual Pinball Machine by Zen Pinball, Tabletop Pac Man, Air Hockey, Foosball and so much more. Spinners is located at 919 N East St Frederick MD and is open to the general public 6 days a week. Please visit their Facebook Page for hours and events information.
I recently spoke with Executive Director and Founder Joe P. Said to find out a little bit more about their mission, their work with children with Autism and other special needs as well as future plans for Spinners and Pinball.EDU. Please read my interview below to find out what we chatted about.
Jeff: What was your first pinball machine and where did it come from?
Joe: So all the games here are from 8 different collectors, me and essentially some of my friends and a couple people in the community I’ve met have all contributed their games to the location. So the charity hasn’t bought any games, we’ve had some donated and the charity does own some but we don’t spend money on any of them. So essentially it was my personal collection of about 20 games and then I was like I think I’ll open a space for them and that was about five years ago.
The first game that I bought that is still mine and is here is probably the Grand Prix made by Williams. Almost into the solid state era around 1977 where they made some games with the electro mechanical score reels and they started making some games with digital displays and that’s how you can tell the difference, and the Grand Prix has the spinners and lots of spinner action and so it’s one of the better designed games.
How did I get that game? I had just been to the world championship in Seattle where 64 people were allowed to play, and I came in 65th. The guys were playing that game and it was so fun watching them play the game I said I really need this game. So I built my collection to run tournaments at my house and that is a really tough game for tournament play.
Jeff: I read about the inspirations behind Spinners… the three young men Robert Gagno, Nick Dawtry and Max Seidman ( 3 inspirational stories you can read about at Pinball.EDUInspiration ) I’m wondering if you have met any pinball wizards if you will, any local players thare amazing at pinball that inspires you?
Joe: Ok this will be very flattering to Elliot, our most recent Maryland State Champion. Elliot is a guy who showed up to league one time when we had one of our locations in Westminster and was like what is this all about and I was like well this is pinball league. He ended up winning the Maryland State Championship after playing for two years. We’ve had six State Championships, we’ve had six different state champions and he’s definitely vying for the best player in Maryland right now.
Jeff: Wow and he comes in here and plays?
Joe: He’s come in here a couple times and he’s a friend in the community. Seeing how addicted he is is awesome, because it takes a lot of practice it’s not just learning flipper skills or learning how to manage multi-ball you have to know the rules to every single game. Every game is different, they’re similar but they all have different rules.
Jeff: What I’m most interested in learning about is your mission and how pinball helps kids with Autism and other special needs. Please tell me a little about your mission.
Joe: So the original concept was to create a community center that would be an inclusive space for anybody with a disability or not can come and share space. Hopefully everybody is somewhat aware of people with differences and so that was the original goal. There are two organizations here and each one is part of the other. One is Pinball.EDU which has the mission of providing pinball for education and social skill development. Then there’s Spinners which is the embodiment of that mission and then more. At Spinners we have 13,000 Square feet of space here, we have a repair shop here, we teach at least informally today classes on coin op restoration. We also have a stage here and we’re working with other people in the community to form a music program. We also run a summer camp that’s probably more overlapped than some of the other programs with the EDU mission. The original idea was to see what pinball does for the Autism community and see if there’s something special there. Playing competitively for ten years I met some of the best players like Robert Gagno, who was on the spectrum at one time nonverbal and now he’s on speaking tours telling people how pinball changed his life. Now there is a Netflix film about him.
Jeff: Amazing! What’s the name of the film?
Joe: Yeah amazing right? The film is called Wizard Mode and we’re friends with the folks who put that together. What’s interesting about that is, I came up with this idea six years ago and in the pinball world people know about pinball and Autism but I have a background working with people with disabilities and I have a business background so I felt like I could do a pretty good job at this.
Further… you know Spinners being a location where Pinball EDU isn’t really a location we want to have more centers like what we’re doing at Spinners that uses the Pinball.EDU model for education as well as how to network in the community.
Jeff: So it sounds like you want to have more than just this location?
Joe: I believe that we don’t necessarily need to be involved in every community but this concept can work in any community. Especially the way we’ve designed our program and the integration with other community organizations like the ARC, the YMCA and the United Way, organizations that are in every community and you know there are schools in every community we could do after school programs too.
Jeff: So you’re tapped in with the schools in the community as well?
Joe: I am I think I’m getting a little better at planning things with schools but it’s tough because you have to get buses and you have to get signed off on things and they plan things well in advance. But last year I’d say we did about 15 field trips which is pretty good so far it’s just been through word of mouth and me meeting people but yeah that’s something we want to get more involved with for sure.
Jeff: So all of this is nonprofit right?
Joe: This is a 501c3 charity nonprofit so everything goes to overhead like keeping the lights on and parts.
Jeff: And paying employees?
Joe: Well we don’t technically have any employees it’s all volunteer but hopefully someday because you know it’s a business right and we want to grow so eventually yeah hopefully we can eventually pay people.
Jeff: Well that is amazing, it’s good to know there are people out there willing to work for free and learn for an excellent cause.
It started to get pretty busy in there as Joe and I were chatting so I had to cut our conversation a little short. I want to close out by saying thank you to Joe for sitting and chatting with me and for what he and the rest of his team do for the Frederick community and beyond. It is a cause worthy of supporting and I hope I can help in some way by spreading the word. I would love for everyone who reads this to go out and give Spinners Arcade a try because it is so much fun. You will not be disappointed I promise you, In fact you’ll probably fall in love with it like I did.