Ding! Ding! Local pinball wizard opening new arcade

After opening the Wizard's World in December, local businessman Mike Burgess has announced plans to double the Huntertown pinball arcade's size. Huntertown. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Because of a health issue, Mike Burgess looks 40 or 50 years older than he is. Since he was 16, Ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis, has affected his back, his neck, his joints and his sight.

“It’s caused chaos,” he said. “It still does, but I’m a fighter and I’m not going to give up.”

He actually recently celebrated his 50th birthday, but his stiff gait and hunched shoulders make his movements those of someone much older and more brittle. Bones in his spine, neck and his hips are fused, and most people would probably just say the heck with it and remain in bed because what would be the point of challenging all the pain?

But Burgess has found a hobby that gives him something to look forward to every day. The co-owner of New Haven’s Petroleum Parts Inc., Burgess has recently rekindled his boyhood passion for pinball machines, and on Dec. 15 he’s going to open Wizard’s World at 14613 Lima Rd., on the south edge of Huntertown. He’s hosting his first tournament on Dec. 18.

“It’s been a passion since I was knee-high,” he said. “The earliest I can remember playing is when I was real small at the laundromat with Mom. I still have the competitive edge, and it’s something I can do.”

That first machine was called Hollywood, built in 1976, and he recently found a replica to add to his collection. There will be around 30 machines when the arcade opens, some as old as 1974 and some brand new. He bought a few machines in the 1990s but really got serious about his hobby the last few years when his seven children started getting older and began to move out.

That’s also when he started playing competitively, going to tournaments around the Midwest. His world ranking was 30,182 after this first tournament but is now 5,365 with a state ranking of 26. His world ranking recently moved up 11,581 spots.

Partly because his wife Trisha requested to actually be able to park in her own garage, Burgess decided to look for a business site and found the 1,100-square foot spot in Huntertown. It is named after the place he played as a kid in Manchester. Larry Schmitt will be the league and tournament director, and Paul Meredith the general manager. Matt Ogden of Ogdog’s Pinball Pleasures in Kendallville serves as the technical director, making sure the machines are refurbished and working well.

He’ll look for specific machines anywhere East of the Mississippi River.

The longer he plays in a tournament, the more his afflictions affect him so he’ll use a barstool to sit on while he competes. His ultimate goal is to win a state championship. Now his whole family plays, and he competes in tournaments at least once a week.

“It’s like any other business, you have to have a good plan,” he said. “Pinball players will seek out where the good places are, where the tournaments are, just like I did.”