A World War II maritime vessel is the last place you’d expect to find a beloved childhood arcade game.
Then again, until about a decade ago, your favorite local watering hole wasn’t a likely locale, either.
The era of adult Skee-Ball – now a popular pastime across the country – was ushered in thanks, in no small part, to two friends in Brooklyn, an impromptu trip to Coney Island and a serious face-off.
On the train ride home that fateful afternoon back in 2005, Brewskee-Ball was born. And 11 years later, grown-ups can be found – quarters in one hand and a cold beer in the other – playing the game as a competitive sport.
Brewskee-Ball’s network of leagues, including the longrunning local group, will converge on Battleship Park Saturday for the seventh annual national championship, affectionately referred to as The BEEB by gaming insiders.
In years past, the event has been held in the larger of the league’s cities; it started out in Brooklyn and then moved to Austin, Texas. But founder and self-proclaimed “Skee-E-O” Eric Pavony turned his attention to the Port City after Tracy “Trace Face” Townsend became the first Wilmington resident, and the first female in the country, to take home the title of best individual roller.
Considering the significance of this year’s BEEB (Townsend will be defending her title on her home turf for her team, which turns 10 this year) Pavony couldn’t think of a better stage than aboard the “beautiful backdrop” he remembers so vividly from his first trip to Wilmington back in 2006.
“When I was thinking about doing it in Wilmington, in the back of my head, I kept thinking, it’s got to go on the Battleship,” he recalled.
Call it a wild notion. Pavony doesn’t care. In fact, he said plenty of league members weren’t so sure he could pull it off. But with a “You never know,” he rolled with it and, in much the same way Breeskee-Ball came about, The BEEB came together.
Growing up in New York, Pavony had a “fierce passion” for Skee-Ball, and remembers collective hours spent at Chuck E. Cheese’s tossing wooden balls down a ramp and into the those little cut-out circles.
Cut to adulthood and Pavony and business partner Evan Tobias were publishing a Brooklyn arts and entertainment magazine in Williamsburg.
“We had this sudden itch to play Skee-Ball…but we looked up where to play and there was nowhere close by for us to play,” Pavony said.
The nearest spot was Coney Island and the pair spent the afternoon side by side and going head to head.
“It was the greatest experience of Skee-Ball I’ve ever had,” Pavony noted.
As talk later turned to reintroducing adults to the game, another favorite pastime quickly came to mind.
“It didn’t take long before we said, do you know what would go great with Skee-Ball? Beer,” Pavony said, laughing.
So he and Tobias picked up a couple of old machines, refurbished them and convinced their neighborhood bar to let them move the games in.
“We were really selfish. We just wanted to play Skee-Ball with our friends in our bar,” Pavony said. “But we quickly realized that this was something we should open up to more people and once the ball literally started to roll, we were adding leagues…and now we have Brewskee-Ball from skee to shining skee.”
Pardon the puns; it’s all part of the fun. Pavony knows Skee-Ball for grown-ups sounds a little silly because, he said, it is. But below the surface, something much more meaningful is happening in the active leagues, something that has surprised even Pavony.
“I wish I could take credit for it, but I was not able to foresee the unbelievable power this league would have to create such close connections,” he said. “There is a higher thing going on here. You go to play and eventually you realize, holy cow these people are great and they sort of become your really good friends in life, not just in Skee-Ball.”
Sometimes they become more than friends. Pavony said he has been to eight weddings just this year alone to celebrate the nuptials of couples who met in their Brewskee-Ball league. Skee-Ball, he added, is a “great unifier.”
“People are different as they get older but everyone was probably a kid once,” Pavony said with a chuckle. “So you may have nothing really in common with someone, but you will probably have the commonality that you were both kids at one point and you probably both loved Skee-Ball at one point.”
Considering Brewskee-Ball is about more than the game itself, The BEEB is more than just a competition. The tournaments that will take place in Wilmington this Saturday and Sunday are the main event, of course, but Pavony describes The BEEB as part festival, part family reunion.
Ahead of the weekend championship, league members will gather together Friday for a night of dinner, dancing, a la an ’80s prom, and this year’s Hall of Fame inductions.
Then at 1 p.m. Saturday, Skee-Ball takes over Battleship Park, as tourney contenders battle it out throughout the day. There will also be a disc golf course, a bar, onsite food trucks and live music. Spectators are welcome to join in the fun, and admission is free.
As the sun sets, the final remaining Skee-Ball teams vying for the World Mug will follow a procession to the Battleship, where they’ll go for glory on the ship. The championship picks back up at 2 p.m. Sunday, when Townsend and her opponents in the individual division will go up against each other throughout the day.
Click here for more information about Brewskee-Ball and a full tournament schedule.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at email@example.com.