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Meet Sunshine Bon, North Carolina's Pinball Wizard

Sunshine Bon in the middle of a pinball competition.
Scott Durfree
Sunshine Bon in the middle of a pinball competition.

Everyone deals with stress in different ways. For some it’s meditation or running. For one woman in Concord, it’s an arcade game in the midst of what some might say is making a bit of a comeback...pinball. She’s so good in fact, she’s ranked as the number one player in the state of North Carolina.WFAE’sSarah Delia’s caught up with the local pinball wizard and has this story.

Sunshine Bon stands in front of a Lord of the Rings themed pinball machine. She does a sort of two-step dance, leaning her body to the left and the right to seemingly will the ball in a certain direction.

The forty-one -year old stay at home mom is constantly studying the rules of the game and watching other players in person and on YouTube to pick up new techniques.  And the hard work has paid off, Bon is currently ranked as the number one player in North Carolina by the International Flipper Pinball Association.

Bon was first drawn to the game as a child when her parents took her to an arcade.

"I think it was the lights and the sounds and I would pull up a stool and stand on a stool so I could look over the glass. And I was always much more interested playing pinball machines than I was any other videogames," said Bon.

She’s held onto that interest throughout her life, but several years ago when living in Florida, a local establishment started holding monthly pinball tournaments, so she decided to see what she could do.

"I had never been in a pinball tournament before. But I got second place in the very first tournament I went to there. And then I was just hooked on competitive pinball," said Bon. 

When her family moved to Concord about three years ago, finding the pinball community was one of the first things she did, it’s a huge part of her social life. And it’s a stress reliever.

"There’s no problem in my life when I’m playing pinball, it’s just joyful."

Pinball she says helps her juggle work and play. Meditative is a word she uses to describe the game. It’s just her and the ball. And as a parent of a child with special needs, she says the game helps keep her balanced.

"If I didn’t have pinball in my life it would be a whole lot of work and a whole lot of stress. It’s so nice to have something that I feel like I’m good at. Raising a child is a long term project and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until the end. So yeah it’s absolutely instantly gratifying to play a pinball machine," said Bon.

She practices about every other day during the week. Today it’s at Save Point Video Games in the University area of Charlotte. Later in the week it could be Charlotte’s latest “barcade” Abari in NoDa. And on the weekends she can typically be found playing a tournament somewhere in the state. Small tournaments have a cash prize of $10-$15 , but the bigger the tournament, the larger the cash prize can be.  

Bon is a self-described introvert. But get her talking about pinball and she lights up, it gives her a confidence and sense of accomplishment. And Bon enjoys welcoming new people into the pinball community offering advice or insights to tricks of the trade. But she’s got a competitive side too.

"I’m really loud when I lose a ball or a game, especially if I feel like I made a mistake like I shouldn’t have done that. I will yell. But that gets it out of my system fast. It’s like a quick cleanse and then I’m back to my focused game play," Bon said. 

For now, Bon is enjoying that number one spot—which can change depending on the number of tournaments she plays and where she places in them. Her goal is to take her pinball career as far as she can, hopefully one day becoming a world pinball champion…showing everyone, including herself, that she can play a strategic, well thought out—and yes, a mean game of pinball.

Copyright 2016 WFAE

At this point in her life, Sarah considers home to be a state of mind—not one place. Before joining the WFAE news team, she was hosting and reporting in the deep south in Birmingham, Alabama. In past lives she was a northerner having worked and lived in Indiana, Maine, and New York City. She grew up in Virginia and attended James Madison University in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.