GORHAM — From the street, John Reuter’s house looks like any other suburban-style house on Hickory Lane in north Gorham.
But those who venture close enough to hear the clattering and bells emanating from inside may begin to suspect that all may not be as it seems.
When Reuter flings open the door, his visitors enter what would have been a baby boomer adolescent boy’s dream come true, a giant pinball arcade.
“This is better than any arcade,” said Mike Haycock of Windham.
With more than 95 pinball machines lining his garage and basement, pinball guru Reuter hosted the Maine State Pinball Championship on Saturday.
Throughout the afternoon, 16 top players in the New England Pinball League hunched over the machines, manipulating the flippers as lights blinked, bells clanged and metal balls pinged against targets.
It was one of eight state pinball championships across the country Saturday. The action continued into the night.
The winner of Maine’s championship got a $100 prize, a trophy and the right to compete in the International Flipper Pinball Association’s World Pinball Championship in Denver in May.
After decades of decline, pinball is making a comeback. In its heyday, it was a popular pastime. Entire arcades were filled with pinball machines that could be played for a couple of quarters. But pinball fell out of favor with the advent of video games that could be played on home consoles for free, Reuter said.
Now pinball has regained a following, fueled in part by collectors of the machines. Several organizations have created a ranking system and rules so that pinball aficionados can compete around the world.
Reuter has been part of the effort to revive pinball from the start, rescuing defunct pinball machines from rec rooms and basements and teaching anyone interested in the game’s finer points.
Reuter likes to compare pinball to golf. He says it takes skill, reflexes, practice and intelligence to get good at it.
“It is a very Zen experience. To be good at pinball, you have to be in the moment, the here and now,” said Reuter, a mean player himself who won the senior division of the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association’s World Championship in 2007.
Saturday’s championship was low-key.
Reuter, 57, told his visitors they would order out for pizza when they got hungry. Reuter warned everyone to be wary of his pet cat, which has been known to dive-bomb the pulsating machines.
Most competitors said they were there for fun, not the glory.
“I play better when there is more pressure,” said Jay Ramey of Rumford.
Theresa Nessel of Portland said she would really like to go to Denver. She started playing pinball 3½ years ago. Now she and her husband, Jake Erskine, own nine pinball machines.
She has yet to break her 2013 New Year’s resolution to play pinball ball every day. When she is away from home, she searches for pinball machines on the Internet.
“I haven’t missed a day,” Nessel said.
By 9 p.m., the winner emerged. Haycock, whom Reuter described as one of the best players around, won the first-place trophy. Matt Lodgek of Gorham came in second and won $75. Ramey was third and won $50.
If Haycock decides not to compete in Denver, the right passes on to the next highest winner.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]