- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 2004

The fighting was fierce in the Ardennes forest of Belgium. The German forces had launched an assault on American troops defending Bastogne and were attempting to capture vital supply lines. The thinly spread Allies, however, valiantly held off and eventually pushed back the Germans in what came to be called the Battle of Bulge, the largest land campaign of World War II.

On a clear, crisp Sunday two weeks ago, more than 300 paintball players gathered at Outdoor Adventures in Bowie for a scenario game loosely based on this pivotal battle that ultimately led to Hitler’s defeat.

Most of the players may not have realized that the real Battle of the Bulge was fought 60 years ago this month. They were just there to pit their skills against each other and experience an excitement and adrenaline rush that no spectator sport or video game comes even close to matching.

“It’s fun,” said 12-year-old Chris Shannon, who, with his 10-year-old brother Corey, was on the side of the Americans battling for control of Bastogne, represented by a two-story, 2,500-square-foot plywood castle in the woods near the Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie.

But this time history didn’t repeat itself — the Germans managed to capture the Bastogne castle, but only to lose it again by late morning. “We took back the castle,” Chris said proudly during a lunch break in the parking lot.

With nearly 10 million players and 2,500 paintball fields across the country, paintball is the third-most popular “extreme” sport in the United States after inline skating and skateboarding. And it’s growing quickly — the number of paintballers has increased by 66 percent since 1998. The sport now has amateur and professional league tournaments and boasts nearly $400 million in annual equipment sales, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

Paintball is played with compressed air guns, called “markers,” that shoot marble-sized balls filled with paint. The gelatin casing is hard but brittle, so when a paintball hits a target (your opponent, hopefully) it splatters, leaving a colorful splotch of paint, which washes out with laundry detergent.

A hopper attached to the top of the marker holds about 200 paintballs, which can be fired as fast as the trigger is pulled. When a paintball breaks on a player or any piece of his equipment, the player is out.

Because the paintballs fly at 280 feet per second (nearly 200 mph), safety is paramount. Players wear protective Darth Vader-type masks that shield their eyes, face and ears. Off the playing fields, referees are vigilant that guns are de-cocked and fitted with barrel plugs so they cannot discharge accidentally.

“We always have plenty of staff on hand to be sure safety is being looked after,” said Bill Styron, one of field’s managers.

During this scenario game, players that were hit had to call for a “medic” to “heal” them by pasting on a bandage before resuming action. Players who were hit on the mask had to go to a regeneration station. In other paintball games, the tagged player simply walks off the field with his hand raised and waits until the next game starts. Those paintball games usually last 10 to 15 minutes, while the scenario game, by contrast, ran for several hours.

For many, the militaristic nature of shooting another person can be off-putting. But in reality, injuries in basketball far outnumber those from paintball, where the most common malady is a twisted ankle from running in the woods.

“A lot of people think paintball’s not a good thing because it seems violent,” said Charlene Shannon, watching sons Chris and Corey eat lunch and clean their gear.

“But I don’t agree. I think it’s great,” Mrs. Shannon said. Since moving to Bowie a year ago from Guam, her sons have made new friends through paintball, she said. “It’s a boy thing, and here it’s a controlled environment. They learn teamwork skills, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Indeed, most of the players were males from about 10 years old to the mid-60s. The average seemed to be late teens to the mid-20s. Surprisingly, about 15 or 20 young women, many wearing battle fatigues, joined their male counterparts. As far as could be determined, the women seemed to be holding their own on the field, where the level of testosterone was clearly off the charts.

But during the lunch break in the parking lot, amid vendors selling barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs and paintball jerseys, the atmosphere was relaxed and congenial. The German and American teams coexisted peacefully while moms, dads and children sat in lawn chairs or roamed about, exchanging tips or simply chatting.

“There’s a real sense of camaraderie,” said Gail Wilson, who brought her son, Maurice, and six friends from Baltimore to play for their first time for his 18th birthday. “It looks like they’re having a great time.”

While there are several paintball fields in the area, Outdoor Adventures is one of region’s oldest (since 1988) and largest with 13 wooded fields and four netted speedball or “hyperball” courts on 80 acres of land.

In a typical paintball game, players are grouped into two teams and escorted by referees to opposite ends of one of the football-field-size playing fields. Scattered throughout the field are wooden barricades and bunkers. When the whistle blows, players dash for cover and attempt to pick off their opponents.

The most common game is “capture the flag.” The objective is to grab a piece of cloth that is hanging in the center of the field and run with it to the opponent’s end without getting tagged. Referees closely monitor the action and call players out if they are hit. The refs also enforce safety rules and codes of conduct, including ejecting players who use profanity or display unsportsmanlike behavior.

But for this scenario game, players were divided into Americans (blue armbands) and Germans (red armbands). In addition to fighting skirmishes, teams won points for accomplishing specific objectives, such as capturing an enemy supply depot or defending the Rhine River Bridge (a 28-foot-long aluminum walkboard straddling a creek in the woods).

At various times staff members set off smoke grenades and exploded plastic soda bottles with compressed air to create battleground effects.

“I tried to put myself in the players’ position and think what would be fun,” said Lee Draper, president of Outdoor Adventures. “We wanted to create longer games with larger teams but have them accomplish objectives to make it more interesting.”

Future scenario games might include the Russians versus Chechens and a Civil War re-enactment, Mr. Draper said.

Scenario games will be held once a month starting January while regular paintball games are held nearly every weekend. Saturdays are best for rental and walk-on players because Sundays typically are filled with team practice. Mr. Styron recommends calling a few days in advance to reserve equipment and space. Extra paintballs and compressed-air refills can be bought at the field.

And remember, once your heart stops pounding, that it’s only a game.

When you go:

What: Outdoor Adventures Paintball

Location: Near the Route 301 exit on Route 50, which runs between Washington and Annapolis.

Directions: From Route 50 east in Maryland, take the exit to 301 south. Get into the far-left lane and turn left at the first traffic light, Governor Bridge Road. Follow the roadway for half a mile. Take a left at the sign for Outdoor Adventures Paintball and follow the gravel roadway for about one mile.

Hours:

Saturdays and Sundays:

• Winter: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for rentals and walk-ons.

• Spring and fall: 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m. for rentals, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for walk-ons.

• Summer: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for rentals and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for walk-ons.

Outdoor Adventures is open on weekdays by appointment.

Parking:Spaces are plentiful and free.

Admission: A package deal of $30 per person includes admission and insurance, paintball marker rental, face and eye protection, ammo belt, 100 paintballs and a compressed-air canister. Additional paintballs can be purchased at the field. Those with their own equipment pay $20 per person admission, which includes all-day air refills.

Information: For reservations, phone: 410/437-7492 or click on www.oapaintball.com.

Miscellaneous:

• Plan to arrive early to fill out registration forms and waivers and get your equipment and safety briefing. Outdoor Adventures carries insurance, but, like ski lodges and skateboard parks, participants are required to sign a waiver to acknowledge potential risks of injury. Children younger than 18 need a parent or guardian’s written permission to play.

• You’ll be running and hiding in the woods, so wear old clothes, such as blue jeans, and avoid bright colors. High-top tennis shoes or sneakers are useful.

• Snacks, candy and soft drinks are for sale, but feel free to bring your own food. Picnic tables are available. If you’re hosting a group for a party, discuss bringing in pizza or other food with a manager. Besides welcoming walk-ons, Outdoor Adventures hosts birthday parties and corporate retreats.

When you go:

What: Outdoor Adventures Paintball

Location: Near the Route 301 exit on Route 50, which runs between Washington and Annapolis.

Directions: From Route 50 east in Maryland, take the exit to 301 south. Get into the far-left lane and turn left at the first traffic light, Governor Bridge Road. Follow the roadway for half a mile. Take a left at the sign for Outdoor Adventures Paintball and follow the gravel roadway for about one mile.

Hours:

Saturdays and Sundays:

• Winter: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for rentals and walk-ons.

• Spring and fall: 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m. for rentals, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for walk-ons.

• Summer: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for rentals and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for walk-ons.

Outdoor Adventures is open on weekdays by appointment.

Parking:Spaces are plentiful and free.

Admission: A package deal of $30 per person includes admission and insurance, paintball marker rental, face and eye protection, ammo belt, 100 paintballs and a compressed-air canister. Additional paintballs can be purchased at the field. Those with their own equipment pay $20 per person admission, which includes all-day air refills.

Information: For reservations, phone: 410/437-7492 or click on www.oapaintball.com.

Miscellaneous:

• Plan to arrive early to fill out registration forms and waivers and get your equipment and safety briefing. Outdoor Adventures carries insurance, but, like ski lodges and skateboard parks, participants are required to sign a waiver to acknowledge potential risks of injury. Children younger than 18 need a parent or guardian’s written permission to play.

• You’ll be running and hiding in the woods, so wear old clothes, such as blue jeans, and avoid bright colors. High-top tennis shoes or sneakers are useful.

• Snacks, candy and soft drinks are for sale, but feel free to bring your own food. Picnic tables are available. If you’re hosting a group for a party, discuss bringing in pizza or other food with a manager. Besides welcoming walk-ons, Outdoor Adventures hosts birthday parties and corporate retreats.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide