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Gena Gorlin
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Andrew Clark
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PLAYERS GET HOOKED ON THE THRILL OF THE HUNT

February 4, 2001

Your heart is pounding. You are crouched behind a small wall, and your adrenaline is through the roof. You take a second to suck up your fear, then you just run. What's going on here?

You're playing a game of paintball.

Some say it's a game of war, teaching kids violence and hostility. But the teens Y-Press interviewed say it's all in fun, just like any other sport. Players range in age from 12 to 40, though most are teens. The only age restriction -- 12 and up -- is due to insurance coverage for businesses because "it can hurt," said Audra Prosser, who plays on a competitive paintball team along with John Montgomery, Landry Bates and John DeFelice. All are 15 and from Mooresville.

These friends started playing more than a year ago and quickly became addicted to the adrenaline rush that paintball provides.

"I went with church youth groups, and I liked it," said John Montgomery.

The two Johns used to play "capture the flag" with John DeFelice's dad. But paintball added a new twist. "We would always go down in the woods and try to capture the flag, and we would always hide from him and he would try to find us. And he said it'd be fun if we could play with paintball guns.

"So we got guns and we started playing in their woods. Then we got sick of that. So about a year later, we started playing in the tournaments and stuff," said John Montgomery.

How paintball is played

There are many variations of paintball, but the most popular is similar to "capture the flag" and can be played indoors as well as outdoors. Each team tries to infiltrate the other's base and acquire the opposing team's flag, which they carry to a predetermined spot. The team that does this first without being hit by a paintball is the winner.

The playing field is intricate, including barriers such as bunkers and objects to hide behind. Outdoor fields usually have natural barriers such as trees. Game length varies, with a minimum of 5 minutes for tournament play to longer for recreational games. The number of players also varies, with a minimum of three to a team.

Besides the players, a number of referees usually can be found on the playing field. Their job is to check for "hits." When players are hit with a paintball, they must hold up their hands and move off the field. Referees make sure no one plays after being hit.

"If you're shot out, then you have to go to this certain area called the dead box, and you can't fire your gun within the dead box," Landry explained.

All but John DeFelice admitted to being a little afraid the first time they played.

"At first I was scared to get out on the field 'cause I figured it'd hurt. Then once I played, I had no problem playing," Audra said.

"When you first go out, pretty much you're scared until you get to your bunker and you know what you're doing, you know where everybody's at, and you start getting into it," added John Montgomery.

Some fields are more challenging than others. "Indoors is more super-close combat -- a lot of point-blank shooting. Of course, you also have to turn your gun's pressure down," said John DeFelice.

All of them keep coming back for more.

"It's the rush. It's just plain fun," said John DeFelice.

"It makes all your worries go away when you're down there playing," added Audra, who recommends being in good shape " 'cause you're running a lot."

But it is not always the fastest and strongest who succeed in this game. Most agree that players need to have a plan and act on it. "If you have a team that sits back, that stays in one spot and doesn't move at all, it's pretty much over. If you don't move and be aggressive, then the other team's gonna move up and come around your bunker and shoot you three or four times," said John Montgomery.

There are some precautions players should take. Each of these players felt that paintball was a fairly safe sport but that getting hit with paintballs can be painful, depending on where you're hit.

There is a variety of safety equipment a player can wear on the field, including a mandatory face mask. Optional equipment includes a vest and gloves. "Dress appropriately: at least two or three layers, face mask, gloves," Landry said. Players also need a paintball gun -- which is powered by carbon dioxide, nitrogen or compressed air -- and paintballs. While most gear is available at recreational paintball centers, these players prefer to buy their own.

Though paintball is exhilarating, it can be expensive. Guns range from $40 to $2,000, with the higher-priced guns including features such as automatic firing, a laser scope and a built-in computer chip. Paintballs, which come in various colors and thicknesses, cost about $60 for a case of 2,000 balls. The paintball's thin-skinned gelatin capsule breaks upon impact, leaving a water-soluble mark.

According to the Airgun Designs Web site, paintball began in New Hampshire in 1981 as an oddity sport played by 12 competitors using air pistols. The following year, the first outdoor playing field was opened in Rochester, N.Y. Now it has grown to become a popular unconventional sport, with playing fields around the world, including Thailand, Denmark and Brazil. It is a multimillion-dollar industry with companies such as Pepsi-Cola sponsoring major tournaments.

Awards for local tournament games range up to $5,000 in cash or prizes. Although these teens play in a competitive league, they haven't reached that level of play. All recommend giving paintball a try.

"It's probably my favorite sport," said Landry. "If you like intense sports, kind of extreme, then this would probably be your sport."

"If you haven't played the sport, I suggest you play it," said John Montgomery. "And if you don't like it, then that's fine, but you'll probably find out that you like it a lot."

REPORTERS: Zachary Bell, 11; Shannon Neumeyer, 13; Brandon Satterwhite, 10; and Emilee Swift, 13.

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