Kevin Shanus was a man whose passion for pinball went beyond flipper and plunger, bright lights and clattering steel.
Shanus, who lived in Concord and had served as pinball director at Super Abari Game Bar in Charlotte as well as North Carolina state pinball representative for the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA), passed away unexpectedly in October 2023.
On Feb. 18, Shanus’ former friends and fellow pinball enthusiasts will honor his memory when Super Abari hosts the Kevin Shanus Charity Raffle Pinball Tournament.
Raffle ticket sales and donations will be given to the Mental Health America of Central Carolinas (MHACC) in Shanus’ name.
During the event, the bar will serve up a special cocktail, with each sale adding a dollar to the MHACC donation total.
NoDa Brewing has partnered with Super Abari and crafted a specialty version of the popular Hop Drop and Roll for the tournament — a grapefruit Hop Drop called Hop Bumper, a play on the standard pinball feature pop bumper. One dollar from each Hop Bumper sale during the event will also go to MHACC.
While the pinball tournament will likely get intensely competitive, as they often do, Super Abari owner Zach Pulliam said he hopes the event will be fun for everyone and serve as a way for people to come together for the love of pinball while doing something good for the community, just as his old friend would want.
“The main goal is to raise money for Mental Health America, that’s the whole point,” Pulliam said. “I’m hoping that this is going to be something that we can do every year, you know, something that’s a staple here and [is something] that we can use to raise money in Kevin’s name — remember Kevin and just kind of have fun doing it.”
When we spoke to Pulliam weeks out from its launch, the Kevin Shanus Charity Raffle Pinball Tournament had already raised $3,000 for MHACC. The campaign has since surpassed $4,000.
Mental health was one of Shanus’ many passions, due in part to his own struggles with it.
“Over the COVID years, which were bad for me and him as well, we really kind of focused on mental health,” said Pulliam. “It’s something that was pretty close to his heart as well.”
Shanus was an advocate for helping others with mental health struggles and wanted people to know that it’s okay to feel this way and to discuss it — whether publicly or privately with a therapist. He always emphasized the importance of telling others about your problems, Pulliam added. And that was just one of the many passions that drove Kevin Shanus.
Remembering a life full of selflessness
Shanus’ passing left a permanent scar in the pinball community, where his memory lives on today.
He was also a dedicated husband, a loving brother and caring uncle.
“I always look at him as like a big kid with love for laughing”, said Kevin’s sister, Melanie Sammis. “He was just a caring, loving person and always was ready to make people laugh and have a good time.”
When Shanus wasn’t playing pinball, he was either with his wife, Shannon, or at Cabarrus Health Alliance, where he worked for almost 20 years.
Shanus was passionate about many things; he was an animal lover, for example, and also dedicated much of his free time to raising money for the Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program, which helps young people with physical disabilities develop skills to live an active and productive lifestyle.
Friends of Shanus describe him as one of the kindest, most caring people they have ever met, recalling how he had a way of making everyone around him feel included, cared for, heard and understood, both in and out of the pinball community.
In the lead-up to the Feb. 18 event, we sat down with Pulliam, a longtime friend of Shanus’, to discuss what he meant to the local gaming community.
The two met almost 10 years ago at a retro video game store owned by a mutual friend. Pulliam had stopped in to play one of the pinball machines and Shanus came up to teach him some tips and tricks. They got to talking about the bar Pulliam was opening at the time and Shanus asked if he planned on having pinball machines there. And thus, the nearly decade-old friendship blossomed.
When Pulliam opened his bar, the first Abari Game Bar location on North Davidson Street, in 2016, Shanus lent a helping hand.
“He had some machines that were his that he let us put on the floor and split profits with him just so that we could have some really good pinball machines when we first opened,” said Pulliam.
Shanus’ machines are still on the floor at Super Abari’s new location, which opened on Seigle Avenue in 2022.
When lockdowns started back in 2020, Shanus was the first to rally support from the community, both emotionally and financially, to help keep Abari’s doors open.
Shanus helped raise $15,500 to keep Abari in business at the onset of COVID, though in the end, Pulliam would be forced out of his original location due to rising rents and COVID-related struggles.
Shanus’ starting point in pinball
Growing up, Shanus’ dad ran a side business that involved owning pinball machines and video games located in arcades and pizzerias all around New York. Melanie recounted that, when they were younger, she and Shanus would go around New York City on the weekends with their dad collecting money from the different machines, sometimes even getting to attend special events for video game releases — every gamer’s dream.
“Whenever there were new games that would come out, there were these big events by these companies, and we would go as kids to these events and play video games before they were even out to the public,” said Melanie.
Pinball was always intertwined with Shanus’ childhood, and as he became an adult, he yearned for the nostalgic feeling of slipping coins into the slot and the rush of keeping the ball up for as long as possible. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his childhood experience, he bought a pinball machine for his house.
Years ago, Shanus visited an arcade in South Carolina, where he met an entire community of pinball players who shared the same enthusiasm for the game that he did. He immersed himself in this subculture, eventually competing in 220 tournaments, winning at least 20 of them.
But Shanus’ love for pinball went further than himself. He made a lasting impact on the pinball community throughout North Carolina, especially in the Charlotte area.
“Kevin grew pinball huge in the state,” Pulliam said. “We went from having probably a handful of competitive players and places to play competitively to now I would say around 20-plus places to do it, and I really attribute that to him.”
Shanus loved sharing his knowledge of pinball with others. Through his infectious enthusiasm for the game and his natural-born leadership skills, Shanus was able to turn many people onto pinball as more than just a game you play while you wait for your friend at the bar.
“A lot of people who played pinball don’t realize that there are rules and there are certain things you are trying to achieve,” said Pulliam. “A lot of people think you hit the ball around and keep it, but he was all about, you know, how to control the ball, teaching you the rule sets for each game and that really helped people click with pinball.”
Shanus helped expand the reach of pinball to communities around Charlotte. According to Pulliam, anywhere he hung out to have drinks or hang with friends, Shanus would take some time to encourage the owners to put a pinball machine there.
He also helped launch the Charlotte chapter of Belles and Chimes, an international women’s pinball league, as a safe place for women to come together and enjoy pinball while connecting with others.
Shanus’ influence on the community
The International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) serves as the governing body for pinball as a competitive sport at local, state, national and international levels. It was an organization that Shanus seemed destined to join.
IFPA comprises representatives from every state and district in the United States, all of whom work to increase awareness of competitive pinball in their respective states. Shanus was the perfect fit to serve as IFPA representative for North Carolina, which he did beginning in 2015.
As the NC representative, Shanus ran the state championship tournaments and served as liaison for people seeking guidance on everything pinball.
One year, Pulliam and his crew gifted Shanus a referee shirt with his name on the back, which he wore to every tournament he directed after that.
Shanus was a strict, play-by-the-rules type of guy; if your ball was stuck, tough luck, you just had to work with it.
“We loved him because he was kind of a smart ass and he was a no-nonsense guy,” Pulliam said. “He wanted the tournaments to run really smoothly.”
In August 2023, Shanus reached out to Kaylee Campbell and asked if she would be willing to take his spot as the North Carolina’s IFPA representative.
The two had met during Abari’s regular pinball tournaments and programming.
“I imagine he wanted to keep it in the Abari family,” said Campbell.
She didn’t expect that she and the rest of the local pinball community would lose Shanus just two months later.
Since becoming NC representative, Campbell has been living out Kevin’s legacy by promoting a welcoming pinball community throughout the state. She encourages community understanding by enforcing proper tournament administration.
She also connects with other NC regional tournament directors to keep the network strong and promote pinball and positivity across the Carolinas, just like Shanus did before her.
In January 2024, Campbell hosted the State Championship Weekend at Level 256 in Asheville. There were Open and Women’s state championships, with players traveling from Charlotte, the Triangle, the Triad, Wilmington and even a former NC player from West Virginia who made their return for the tournament.
“I think Kevin would have loved to see me move the tournament to Asheville for the first time to support a very active and growing pinball scene over there,” said Campbell.
She hopes to grow the pinball community across North Carolina in an effort to share Kevin’s love and enthusiasm for the game with players from around the state and carry on his legacy.
“Kevin was the local tournament director when I first started playing competitively eight years ago,” Campbell said. “He taught me everything I know about setting them up and running them. Everyone loved to be around him and he loved pinball and sharing his pinball passion.
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