Southern Pinball Festival is Approaching!

PAPA-CircuitEventThe next PAPA Circuit event is quickly approaching!  The Southern Pinball Festival in Orlando, Florida, is one of the best pinball and gaming expo’s the United States has to offer.  Reigning champion Steve Bowden is busy preparing to defend his title, PAPA is preparing to broadcast a few seminars for the pinball public for the first time, and Donny White, Event Coordinator, is gearing up for the most successful SPF yet.

PAPA: What is the history of the Southern Pinball Festival?

Donny: After moving from Ohio in late 2005, one of the things I missed the most was being so close to many great pinball shows such as Expo & Allentown, and the bi-annual trek to the PAPA mecca. Over the next 5 years, I met several other pinball-minded friends who would frequently gather at each other’s homes to play. I would always wax poeticly about how great shows were up north, but there weren’t any such shows in Florida at the time.

It was 2010 when I met up with my old friends Brian Shepherd and the Sharpe brothers at the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) show in Orlando. At that time, they had just signed a 10-year contract to hold the show the week before Thanksgiving at the Orange County Civic Center in Orlando. Since IAAPA was instrumental in bringing the pinball industry, as well as players, into Florida, I thought it would be a great idea to hold a show the weekend that IAAPA ends.

Our first year, we were 30 minutes away from IAAPA at the Maitland Civic Center. The hall was great with a warm, retro feeling, but it was evident after that first year (2011) that we needed more space and to be more conveinently located to IAAPA and International Drive. Last year we had two partners drop out due to financial and personal reasons, so Leon Essex and I were left to convey our pinball passion to the public on our own. We took our go-big-or-go-home attitudes to the Crowne Plaza Universal, and despite our small team of volunteers, we were a huge success. This year we are once again invading the Crowne Plaza, with hopes of packing the room.

Leon and I began shopping for another venue 6 months ago. We found a new home at the DoubleTree at Sea World, within walking distance of IAAPA. This facility offers double the size of our current hall, with an additional 8000 sq. ft. of vendor space (something we have been unable to offer until now). So the question is, how do you fill a 12,000 sq. ft. hall? You add arcade games and consoles. We have added 3 well-known arcade collectors to our team (Mick Simmonds, Bill Stillwell, & Brian Jones), who are certain to bring the likes of Twin Galaxies tournaments to our show.

While I’m sad to see the end of the Southern Pinball Festival as we know it, I’m excited about the start of Free Play Florida. Leon & I could not have created such a successful show without our great friends in this hobby, as well as organizations like PAPA, IFPA, & Curly at Little Shop of Games.

PAPA: Why pinball?

Donny: I grew up in the late 70s & early 80s, when every convenience store had at least 2 games. While arcade games were cool, I could always stretch a dollar farther when playing pinball. I was a regular at the mall when Pinbot and High Speed were new. That progressive replay on High Speed was absolute genius! As soon as I graduated high school, I got a job at an amusement park as an arcade technician. At that time, Cyclone had me hooked! 25 years later, and I’ve worked for several different operators, setup many successful arcades, and managed to collect or 70 pinball machines.

We take games to several comic book conventions every year, and it amazes me that young kids have never experienced such an American icon. I love introducing them to pinball, then hearing them tell their parents how much fun it is and watching the parents get reacquainted with playing. If we don’t actively introduce our hobby to future generations, we’ll end up like the jukebox collectors!

PAPA: What changes, if any, have you made for this year?

Donny: The tournament was such a huge success last year, thanks in part to the PAPA organization, that we have expanded that area of the show. But big changes are coming for 2014!

PAPA: What excites you most about SPF?

Donny: Seeing all my friends, and the general public, enjoy what we’ve worked so hard to create. I love watching people play my games. They were meant to be shared.

PAPA: What should a first-time visitor keep an eye out for this year?

Donny: Playing pinball until your fingers bleed! OK…maybe just the finest pinball experience Florida has to offer 😉


The Southern Pinball Festival, scheduled for November 22-24, 2013, is a PAPA Circuit event with the overall champion receiving an automatic bid into the PAPA Circuit Final. The top 24 finishers will receive points toward their annual Circuit ranking, and all players will get to battle the silverball, meet new people, and have a great time.

PAPAtv will be broadcasting several seminars on Saturday, November 23rd, the final two hours of qualifying Saturday evening, and a full broadcast of the final rounds on Sunday, November 24th.

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