When playing most sports, you would expect to end up a little black and blue. But what about orange, yellow and green? That's just what happens when 187 Mafia finishes a lightening fast game of Paintball. This Edmond team, whose members are young men, ages 15 through 22, may be on their way to becoming World Cup Champions of this incredibly popular and "colorful" sport.
Chris Angier is General Manager of both Shaggy Brothers Paintball in Edmond, a retail equipment store, and Adventure Zone, a paintball playing facility in Guthrie, where the Edmond team practices and sometimes competes. Angier says he is proud to have his companies sponsor 187 Mafia, especially considering how well the team is doing.
"Up to now, the team has been concentrating on local and regional tournaments," said Angier. "They placed in the top five each time, which is really impressive. In the regional Midwest Series, they placed second out of about 15 other teams in their division. Starting in March, they will be competing in national tournaments in the NPPL which in paintball is like the NFL in football."
The ultimate goal for 187 Mafia is to win the World Cup in Orlando, Florida. Paintball teams from all over the world, including Russia and Sweden, will be competing before packed crowds of more than 40,000 spectators! The United States is the most dominant country in the sport and Angier believes that 187 Mafia may someday represent the U.S. as a "world class team."
Paintball has come a long way since the sport began in 1976. In fact, it is now estimated that more than 10 million people play paintball in the United States alone, making it more popular than baseball. Simply put, Paintball is a more mature form of the childhood game "Tag." Participants in two opposing teams eliminate their opponents from play by hitting them with paintballs shot from a compressed air, carbon dioxide or nitrogen powered gun, commonly called a marker. The game is won when all of one team's players are eliminated and/or the other team's flag is captured. The paintball explodes upon impact, visibly marking the player with paint which could be any color, except red. The marker evolved from a paintball gun created in the 1950s to mark trees and cattle. Two decades later, two friends, a stock trader and a writer, designed a way to use the gun in a game of hunter and survivalist and called it "Survival." In the early 1980s, the game caught on and became known as paintball.
Paintball rules vary depending upon where the game is being played, but safety rules remain fairly consistent. The most important part of the required equipment is the goggle system, or mask, which must be worn at all times while playing or when around others who are playing. Insurance statistics show that paintball is one of the safest sports in existence, even more so than golf or bowling.
"The body isn't as susceptible to injury as the eyes and even the ears," said Angier. "The goggles are designed to protect the face from a direct hit at a speed of 200 mph, which is the highest velocity at which a marker is allowed to fire paintballs. The only other common injury is an occasional sprained ankle."
Paintball may be relatively safe, but it is definitely a test of skill, plus physical and mental agility. The two most common forms of paintball are Woodsball and Speedball. Woodsball is a recreational, beginners form of the game played in a wooded area and lasting up to two hours or longer. Speedball, also called Tourneyball, is the most advanced form of the sport and the one in which 187 Mafia competes and excels. The playing field is much smaller and located on a level, treeless terrain so that players can clearly see each other, competing in fast, tight combat. Speedball is very intense with games lasting as little as two minutes. There is also Scenario Paintball with games based on a storyline or theme and lasting for days.
"To succeed at Speedball, players need to be physically fit, extremely alert and be able to communicate quickly with their team members," said Angier. "The players on 187 Mafia have excellent reflexes and even though they've only been together about a year, they communicate so well and fast that it almost seems like pure intuition."
The team, 187 Mafia, takes the sport of Speedball seriously. Team members practice every Wednesday and every other Sunday–snow, rain or shine. They run drills, working on the fundamentals, and enlist other teams for scrimmages. One of the drills is called "snapshooting" during which a player gets only one shot to hit the target.
Can anyone play paintball? Angier says adults tend to stick with the more recreational forms. There also are some girl players, but they usually lose interest in the game at an earlier age than the boys, who often play into their late teens or early 20s. He also said that the game can be an expensive one if players are going to take it beyond a recreational game and enter into competition.
"Parents often invest thousands of dollars in paintball related expenses," said Angier. "A superior marker with all the bells and whistles can run as high as $1300; then there's also the mask, jersey and other equipment, along with travel expenses and the cost of using a paintball facility. That's fairly significant when compared to a Beginner Player's Package that only runs about $100."
Angier said that Shaggy Brothers Paintball and Adventure Zone are happy to help defer some of 187 Mafia's expenses by sponsoring the team. He believes that it has been a mutually rewarding experience since a winning team like 187 Mafia is good publicity and good for business. Shaggy Brothers is the state's largest supplier of paintball equipment and supplies for the beginner and pro. The company has been in operation for more than fifteen years.
"It's not just that these guys are really good," said Angiers. "It's also that they are really good guys. They are the type of individuals that anyone would want representing them."