By Lynda Jensen
COKATO, MN To the surprise of some, the small town of Cokato will be the center of an international competition this weekend hosted by the International Flipper Pinball Association Friday through Sunday, May 21-23.
Thirteen countries will be represented, with 64 players converging at the home of Jason Rufer near Collinwood, Rufer confirmed.
“They’re calling this the barn tournament,” Jason’s wife, Sara, said, since this event is being conducted in such a rural area, compared to where previous tournaments, hosted in places such as Las Vegas and Stockholm, Sweden. Last year, the tournament was in London, Sara said.
The top player this year is Jorian Engelbrektsson of Sweden. The second worldwide champion is Keith Elwin of Carlsbad, CA.
In fact, these international players hail from everywhere imaginable, Sara added Sweden, Japan, Finland, the Netherlands . . .” Other countries included are Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Denmark.
A sample of players include
• Josh Henderson of Plainfield, IL, who is the youngest player, at the age of 12.
• Bob Matthews of Thousand Oaks, CA, who is the oldest competitor in the field.
• Sunao Kono and Tatsunori Naruke of Japan, who will be traveling more than 8,400 miles to attend the competition.
• Bostonian Bowen Kerins, who will be attempting a three-peat as world champion.
These players, and many others, will be coming to Cokato, staying at the American Inn in either Litchfield or Hutchinson, Rufer said.
Players will be in Cokato for practice Thursday afternoon, May 20, confirmed IFPA President Josh Sharpe, and tournament play will take place from 10 a.m. until midnight, Friday and Saturday. Finals will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sharpe said.
A prize package of more than $14,000 is being offered for this tournament, including a brand new pinball machine from Stern Pinball.
Stern Pinball is one of the IFPA7 World Pinball Championship sponsors, and the only coin-operated amusement pinball manufacturer in the world.
The company produces two to three models each year and will be showcasing its latest release at this event.
Eric Perkins of KARE 11 did a "Perk at Play," episode at the Rufers last year.
When informed of the tournament, Cokato City Clerk Peg Carlson expressed complete surprise.
At first, the city thought it was a case of mistaken identity, since in the past, the City of Cokato has been mixed up with the bigger town of Cloquet, she said. “We used to get mail for them, but not so much any more,” she added.
The World Pinball Tour features more than $150,000 in cash and prizes given away each year. With 19 international country directors, the IFPA has additionally created the first official player ranking system, which awards points based upon player performance. The World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR) includes over 7,500 players from 27 different countries.
Other corporate sponsors include the leading video game manufacturer in the world, Raw Thrills as well as Betson Enterprises, Play Meter Magazine, GameWorks and the American Amusement Manufacturers Association.
A profile on Jason Rufer of Cokato
Jason Rufer is a small-town boy who started collecting pinball machines. He bought his first game in 1997.
One game turned to two, them three and so on. “It’s an addicting hobby, as well as a lot of fun at the same time,” he said. “Getting home from work and relaxing with a game of silverball is where it’s at.”
He now owns more than 90 games, from a 1957 Royal Flush, to a 2010 brand new Ironman, based on the current movie. “It’s a lot of work maintaining and keeping things in order,” he said. “But once you go through a game, they can be trouble-free for many years, other than a few minor tweaks here and there.”
Jason has been really working hard to get the games in order for the tournament, as the best players in the world are coming.
“Getting this spot was kind of a fluke,” he said. Two of the best players in Minnesota are Derek Fugate and Paul Madison, and by knowing the people in the hobby as they are a small group Jason talked with Josh Sharpe of the IFPA. Sharpe came to Minnesota last year to visit friends and play in a local tournament, so he came to visit the Rufers in Cokato.
At that time, Sharpe said the Rufers’ place would be a perfect place for the IFPA tournament. “That’s how it started,” Jason said. Josh and Zach Sharpe are the sons of Roger Sharpe, who has been in the coin operation business for many years and was employed with the famous Williams Pinball division in Chicago.
After the event, and all the hard work, has paid off, Rufer is looking forward to returning to his quiet life, and spending more time with his family.