A game of a Different Color: Paintball Makes a Splash
Michael Gleason/ Correspondent
FOXBORO - Instead of footballs, the only things whizzing through the air at Gillette Stadium were gum ball-sized pellets of paint.
The stadium’s parking lot hosted the National Professional Paintball Tour recently, marking the first time the tour has come to the Boston area.
"All the local teams and vendors are excited (the tour) finally came to Boston," said John Vitale, general manager of Boston Paintball and a Pembroke resident. "I just hope the sport keeps on growing, with bigger events, bigger venues, more teams and better representation of New England."
The games are intense seven-on-seven capture-the-flag matches. Players run, duck and dive from the barrage of paint-filled pellets, taking cover behind inflatable stands, known as "bunkers." A hit means elimination from the game.
Teams are awarded points for eliminating opposing players, retaining their own players, being the first to pull the opposing team’s flag and being the first team to return the opposing team’s flag to their base.
"(Paintball) is the best sport in the world," said Mike Murphy, of Walpole, a member of the Boston Villain team. Murphy added that his favorite aspect of the sport was what he called "bunkering" someone.
"It’s when you run up and shoot someone in the face from about two inches away," said Murphy.
Despite the prospect of such a painful encounter, paintball is gaining in popularity.
"The younger kids are starting to play a lot more. It’s safe and fun for everybody," said National Professional Paintball League President Chuck Hendsch. "There are 10 million people who play paintball in the U.S. alone."
Hendsch estimated the turnout at 12,000-15,000 during the three-day Foxboro event, and is very optimistic about the future of his sport.
"The league’s been around since 1992," said Hendsch. "It started with about 12 teams. We grew over the years and now we have close to 600 teams that compete on the circuit, but we do around 220 teams per event."
Neil Coburn, of Wareham, an employee of Cape Cod Paintball, started playing 10 years ago.
"When I first started playing, I’d say I played paintball and people would be like ’What? What do you do?’ Now I say I play paintball and people say ’Wow, what’s that like?’"
Not all the teams are professional.
"It’s sort of like European soccer," Hendsch said. "We have 18 pro spots, and those are the teams that compete throughout the year. At the end of the season, there’s a points race. There are five events, and the bottom three teams get relegated to semi-pro, and the top three semi-pro teams get promoted up. There’s excitement at the top of the bracket as well as the bottom."
George McMahon, another Boston Villain player and a Walpole resident, was not happy with his team’s performance.
“I don’t want to talk about it," he said.
The tour’s next stop is at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
"The fifth stop is still to be announced, but we’re
looking at the Rose Bowl and the Forum in L.A.," Hendsch said.