Apr 17, 2007

Splatter Nation: Liberty paintball rises to the national spotlight

by Jared Pierce, Asst. Sports Editor
Does the thought of paint splattering across your masked forehead sound appealing? Is traveling 50 yards to grab the flag of the opposing team while paint pellets fly past an inviting proposition? For the 16 members of the Liberty Flames paintball team, it is.

Formed in the spring of 2006, this is not a weekend-only project by a few bored students. There is a team constitution and elected officers such as president, vice president and treasurer. Practices are held every Sunday at Splatter Mountain on Candlers Mountain Road.

The field is owned by Thomas Road Baptist Church, which lets the team use the field in exchange for its upkeep.

For those who are paintball illiterate, the matches consist of two five-man teams on a field roughly 50 yards in length. The object is to snatch the other teams’ flag and safely get it to the opposite end of the field. Anytime a paintball makes contact with a player and that paintball breaks, the player is considered out.

There are four positions that individual team member’s play — front, mid, back and tape-guard. The tape-guard is responsible for watching the sidelines and being sure no opposition sneaks by.
Each man is responsible for his position, but, much like basketball, players will switch off when the situation arises throughout the five-minute matches.

Though five minutes of flying paint and running men with semi-automatic weapons may seem like chaos, it is a very controlled chaos.

“Most of (what is going on) is communication signals,” said club Vice President Jason Kohout. “We are telling (each other) how many we shot or how many of us are left or if anyone is having gun issues.”

Much like the men’s hockey team, the paintball team stars in a major non-NCAA league. The team belongs to the AA division of the National Collegiate Paintball Association (NCPA), which includes schools such as Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, the University of Wisconsin and Temple University, among many others. Of the 63 teams in the NCPA, Liberty ranks 22nd.

That the team has played in only two tournaments this year makes its ranking even more impressive. In its last five tournament appearances, the team has placed no worse than second. Two five-man teams traveled to Greensburg, Pa., for the annual Northeast Intercollegiate Conference (NEIC) Frost Bowl.

Each team can independently place within each competition, but the overall scores are combined when NCPA rankings are tallied. It was an impressive showing for both Liberty teams as one team grabbed 13th place while another finished just behind powerhouse Drexel in second place. Drexel’s second team placed just behind Liberty in third place.

On March 31, the Flames traveled back to Pennsylvania to compete in the Northeast Conference Championships.

The team elected to play in the event despite being a member of the Southeast Conference. It turned out to be a good choice as the Flames won the tournament over second place Temple.

Their next tournament will occur in West Virginia later this month.

“We have constantly improved,” said Kohout. “It has been a steady progress of getting better and better.”

They are men dedicated to their sport, which is by no means cheap. A used gun can cost up to $600 while a new one will run between $900 and $1500. Each trip they make to a tournament comes straight out of the players’ pockets. The team does have several sponsors that offer them discounted prices. Economics even influences which team members attend tournaments.

“It depends on who can afford it and who has the time,” said team member Andrew Williams. “The technology is always advancing. Something is always better, faster, lighter or smaller.”

With gas prices rising and air travel still a bit pricey, the team only attends two to three tournaments a year. Though the team qualified for this year’s NCPA National Tournament in Dallas, Texas, they are unable to afford the roughly $500 per person it would have cost to attend the event.

“We are definitely hoping to go to nationals next year,” said Kohout. “It is one of our many goals for next season.”

The team currently has club sport status.

The university is not totally ignoring the team though. Recently, Liberty agreed to fund an on-campus paintball field that will be erected by the East dorms. The first on-campus paintball field was built in 2001 by Iowa State University.

The team makes sure they pray at the begging of each tournament. Having a Christian attitude sets Liberty apart from other teams.

“It is completely different to watch them play,” said Williams. “There is a lot of yelling and cursing, which you don’t hear out of our team.”

The team’s motto is “Winners have a plan…Losers have excuses.” The Flames must have a good plan as they continue having strong showings. They rather enjoy the underdog status a team from a small school like Liberty gets.

“We’re not considered competition, but we held our own,” said Team Captain Dan Gardner.

A fund-raising event will be held on April 21 at Splatter Mountain. Liberty students will have the chance to form three-man teams and compete for a cash prize of $150. The team hopes to put the money towards essential needs like paint and other practice expenses.

For more information about the team, visit their Web site at www.lupaintball.net.

Contact Jared Pierce at jpierce2@liberty.edu.
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