June 13, 1948 — Dec. 28, 2018
Ralph Anthony Coppola earned his college degrees in accounting and law, but the table hockey games he played in law school became his life's work.
After he and a partner took over Innovative Concepts in Entertaining, they produced, refined and popularized the internationally known Super Chexx Bubble Hockey game.
Mr. Coppola died Dec. 28, 2018, after being stricken in his Orchard Park home. He was 70.
"He loved what he was doing, and he loved everybody who worked for him at the factory," said Carolyn Coppola, the wife of his son Joseph. "He knew everybody by name, all 200 employees, and they knew him."
His funeral, held Jan. 3 in St. Michael's Church, drew customers and friends from London, Mexico, Italy and all over the United States, said Mr. Coppola's daughter-in-law. "He was genuinely loved in the industry," she said.
Mr. Coppola was a devoted family man, and was happiest when surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren — whether at home or on trips they took as a group.
He was born June 13, 1948, in Buffalo, one of six children of Joseph Coppola and Florence Driscoll Coppola. His father, whose parents operated the Coppola grocery store on South Park Avenue at Chicago Street, was a graduate of Canisius High School who wanted his sons to attend his alma mater. Although Joseph Coppola died when his son Ralph was only 7, the boy followed in his father's footsteps.
In 1966, Mr. Coppola graduated from Canisius High School, where he played on the basketball and baseball teams.
In August of 1969, he married Suzanne M. McMahon.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Canisius College in 1970 and graduated from the University at Buffalo Law School in 1974.
After jobs in accounting and management, in 1982 Mr. Coppola and partner Jack Willert took over Innovative Concepts in Entertainment, known as ICE, which produced Chexx, a table hockey game enclosed in a vandal-proof plastic bubble.
The game was invented by David M. Barcelou, who had left the company. A descendant of mechanical table hockey, Chexx, later called Super Chexx, brought excitement with an electronic scoreboard, crowd sound effects and classic hockey organ music.
"Super Chexx has become iconic, but it was really just a way to commercialize the table hockey games I played with my friends in law school," Mr. Coppola told Buffalo Magazine earlier this year.
Inspired by the "Miracle on Ice" game in the 1980 Winter Olympics, the game's plastic players wore American and Russian uniforms and it was an immediate hit. It sold more than 5,000 tables in its first year.
Over the company's first seven or eight years, the company held its own, Mr. Coppola told Buffalo News reporter Matt Glynn in 2010. ICE "made a living," and executives tried to develop a new game or so each year, he said.
In the 1990s, the company began growing. It is now the nation's largest manufacturer of arcade games, including crane games, basketball games for children and adults — and a version of Skee-Ball called Ice Ball.
The company sells its games in more than 50 countries. The company hosted a Super Chexx hockey tournament in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
As it expanded, its factory moved from the Town of Tonawanda to Buffalo to its current location in Clarence. At the time of his death, Mr. Coppola was a partner in the company with his son Joseph Coppola and Drew Krause.
"He would work at home every night — when everyone was asleep, he would still be sending emails," said Carolyn Coppola.
Known for his generosity, Mr. Coppola often donated games to charitable groups for their fundraising auctions.
He recently joined the Canisius High School Board of Trustees. His son and grandson maintained the family tradition; Joseph graduated from the school in 1989, and Ryan in 2016.
In his younger days, Mr. Coppola coached Little League and youth basketball in Orchard Park.
An avid golfer, he was a member of Crag Burn Country Club, Orchard Park Country Club and Gator Creek Country Club in Sarasota, Fla.
He maintained a second home in Siesta Key, Fla., where the entire family gathered once or twice a year for two decades, said his daughter-in-law. In 2018, 16 members of the immediate family went to New York City to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, she said.
The family also gathered at various spots around the country, including Arizona, South Carolina, California and Texas, on trips organized by Mr. Coppola. He and his wife Suzanne researched locations to find places where children and adults alike would have fun, Carolyn Coppola said.
Besides his wife of 49 years, Suzanne, and his son Joseph, Mr. Coppola is survived by another son, Daniel; two daughters, Marcy and Lori Walter; seven grandchildren, a brother, sisters and nieces and nephews.
News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report.