FARGO — Before every pinball tournament, Tim Fiechtner thinks about his late father, Bob.

“I say a little prayer and my dad, who’s been passed away for quite a while now, I say hello to him, and all the glory to God and hope that my folks are watching down and shining their eyes while I’m playing," he said.

Fiechtner punched his ticket to the 2019 International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) National Pinball Championship by winning the IFPA North Dakota state title on Saturday, Jan. 19, at Fargo Pinball.

Fiechtner will compete Thursday, March 28, at the national championship in Las Vegas. Fiechtner, who is ranked 3,856th in the IFPA and first in North Dakota, will face more than 830 competitors there.

State tournament

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Dan Stephney, the No. 2 seed, was trying for his third consecutive North Dakota state title, but was upset in the first round by 15-seed Aaron Lindgren.

Dan Stephney poses after a practice session at Fargo Pinball in 2017. April Knutson / Forum News Service
Dan Stephney poses after a practice session at Fargo Pinball in 2017. April Knutson / Forum News ServiceForum file photo

Fiechtner, ranked third, was dominant throughout. Each matchup was in a best-of-seven format. Fiechtner lost one game in the first two rounds. He topped Lindgren 4-2 in the semifinals and cruised to a 4-0 win over Josh Trautner for the championship.

“It’s an honor,” Fiechtner said. “I hope to represent the state well at the national championship. It took a lot of hard work and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. On that day, I had a pretty strange confidence and I felt good about the day.”

Though he was highly seeded, Fiechtner was a slight underdog in the sense that he hadn’t previously competed much at Fargo Pinball. The state title was only his second tournament victory at the venue.

Fargo Pinball co-owner Bill Brooks, who finished in third place as the No. 16 (lowest) seed, said this year’s tournament was different than others.

“Three out of our top four finishers were the 16 seed, the 15 seed and the 12th seed,” Brooks said. “There were some serious upsets that were absolutely not expected. It was exciting all the way to the finish. To have Tim, from Fargo, going to represent Fargo Pinball and North Dakota in Vegas is awesome to see.”

Inspiration

Fiechtner, a lifelong pinhead, said his father loved pinball, so that’s how he got into it. His dad was co-owner of the Nodak Store in Fargo, which carried some vintage pinball machines, such as the Fireball machine that Fiechtner still has in his basement.

“My dad was one of my heroes, so whatever he did, I kind of wanted to do, too,” Fiechtner said. “My dad was a Vegas guy, too. I’ll be thinking about him when I go there.”

One of the aspects that has carried Fiechtner to his championship status, and has helped him in other facets of life, is patience. That allows him to control and catch the ball more.

He said a lot of the younger pinball players will go to YouTube and watch videos on how to get better on new machines. While Fiechtner will occasionally do that, he opts for the old-school method by jumping into a game and working his way into it via trial and error to improve.

Pinball club

Fiechtner sharpens his skills at Fargo Pinball.

“I’d just like to thank Bill and Jim and Emily Brooks for making this place available, because I wouldn’t be going anywhere if it wasn’t for these guys,” Fiechtner said. “As far as my pinball stature, it’s all because of this place. I wouldn’t have any if it wasn’t for them.”

Bill Brooks, his wife Emily and brother Jim revived Fargo Pinball after the previous owner, Scott Nelson, closed it.

Under Nelson’s ownership, the arcade was located at 413 Broadway N. in downtown Fargo. The Brooks brothers bought many of the machines from Nelson in the summer of 2015 and set up shop that December at 1133 Harwood Drive S. in Fargo. Members pass a background check, pay an annual fee and use a swipe card to enter the club.

Fargo Pinball has since expanded, partnering with Drekker Brewing Co. and adding eight machines to Drekker’s Brewhalla location at 1666 First Ave. N. west of downtown Fargo.

“It has been growing dramatically,” Bill Brooks said. “We’ve been open for three years now, and the number of people who’ve discovered us and have brought their families to play, we’ve quadrupled membership since we opened.

"What’s especially exciting is the number of kids that come in to play with their parents or grandparents, so they can relive something that their parents grew up with or their grandparents grew up with," he added.

Bill said a pleasant surprise has been how many girls enjoy pinball — 80 percent of Fargo Pinball’s birthday parties are for girls.

Giving Hearts Day

Fargo Pinball does more than just host birthday parties. It will hold a charity event on Giving Hearts Day, which falls on Valentine’s Day, Thursday, Feb. 14.

On Valentine’s Day and Giving Hearts Day, Fargo Pinball will be open to the public from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. All the money that goes into the machines will be doubled by Dakota Medical Foundation and donated to The Village Family Service Center. All machines will be open to sponsorship for both businesses or individuals for $50 a machine, which will also go directly to the organization.

“(The Village) does so much for the community, whether it’s mental health, addiction recovery or adoption services,” said Emily Brooks, who handles the majority of Fargo Pinball’s communications, marketing and charity events. “They do so much, and it’s a huge joy for us to be able to give back to the community that helps support our business.”

The Brooks family is appreciative of locals who have helped them get to this point.

“We’re just so thankful for all the support from the F-M community,” Bill said. “If you would’ve told me the amount of support we would’ve gotten three years ago when we got this back up and running, I would’ve been shocked… We’re very thankful for all the community’s support that they’ve not only given to Fargo Pinball, but to pinball in general.”