PAPA World Championships on NPR

WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, visited the PAPA World Championships last month to cover PAPA 17.

It’s unlikely that anyone would mistake Bowen Kerins’ hobby for a sport, though it does have a few whiffs of athleticism. For starters, it requires agility, quickness and coordination. Plus, there are balls and an elaborate point system.

Kerins, from Salem, Mass., is a pinball player. But not just any pinball player — he’s last year’s world champion. And he was in Pittsburgh recently to defend his title at the 2014 Professional and Amateur Pinball Association’s World Championships.

The tournament, in its 17th cycle, drew hundreds of players from around the U.S. and a few from countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden, where pinball is popular.

The top players like Kerins competed for a $10,000 first-place purse — nothing to sniff at for an arcade game where normally the only prize is being able to input your initials when you land a high score.

“It is the chance to be a pro athlete for one weekend a year,” Kerins said.

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PAPA 17, as this year’s championships were called, was held in a massive, 30,000-square-foot warehouse filled with nearly 500 pinball machines.

“This is a tournament with 24 qualifiers all playing eight different pinball machines set up at a very high difficulty,” said tournament director Mark Steinman, who doubles as the event’s TV play-by-play announcer. “And the winner of this tournament will be declared the world pinball champion.”

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