Paintball players share bonds forged on ‘battlefield’

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CONSTANTIA — Paintball is open at Oneida Lake via The AAA Paintball Park in Constantia and the numbers of players who come out to play on the weekends to make it exciting are many.

Owner/operator Shane LaBeef, who’s been playing paintball for more than 25 years, said he fell into owning the nine-acre park quite by accident.

“The property came up for sale in 2012, and my wife and I were looking for a piece of land we could camp on,” said LaBeef, sitting at a picnic table in his park, the ground around him littered with dozens of broken little balls gushing gobs of pink and green goo.

“When we got here we found out the guy was retiring and he didn’t really want to separate the property from the business. So, I made him a deal, I said ‘Look, I’ll keep it running.’ He said it was simple, one group a month that’s all you got, you can do it part-time, and I said no problem and took it over.”

The season runs from April to November and LaBeef said they changed the website around a little bit and just started to invite people over. Other people found it on their own and finding a passion for it.

People like Zack Welsh, who LaBeef said has been coming to the park for at least four years now. Welsh was wearing head to toe safety gear which included plastic armor padding in his shirt and pants, plus a mask that covered his face forehead to chin.

“I came here for my cousin’s birthday party and I was hooked after that,” Welsh said. “I consider it my favorite hobby.”

A flattering statement for the originators of the game perhaps. Especially since all was created as a serious means of work for thriving industries. Paintballs and their guns were first considered in the mid 1960’s by Charles Nelson, co-founder of the Nelson Paint Company. The company manufactured projectile paintballs and special applicators, known as “markers” The paint designed to withstand the harshest elements of nature making it suitable for industrial applications...or tree markings for the Forestry Service. Also, for cattle ranchers who wanted to mark stray cattle from a distance, according to nelsonpaint.com.

After years of trial and error for a “marker” gun that would work adequately, Nelson approached Corpsman Co. who produced the Crosman 707. However, the marker, or gun, did not sell very well and production was halted fairly fast, according to nelsonpaint.com.

Undeterred, Nelson next approached Daisy Manufacturing Co, (now Daisy Outdoor Products) in 1972 and they created the Daisy SPLOTCHMARKER paintball pistol marker. The tool would eventually be re-named the NEL-SPOT 707 and it was mass produced by R.P. Scherer.

Hence, in paintball player slang, a paintball gun is called a “marker.” The marker’s are powered by Co2 tanks. A typical tank made specifically for an entry level gun, or “marker” is 35 cubic inches and 3000 pounds-per-square-inch, or PSI. They cost around $60 and a player should get approximately 400 shots per canister, according to ansgear.com.

According to the “History of Paintball” by Nicol Street ,the first paintball game was played as an experiment in June of 1981 in Henniker, New Hampshire on an 80-acre cross-country ski area. It was played in the “capture the flag” format by nine people who paid $175 for equipment, food and beverage, and the three originators of the game, Bob Gurnsey, a ski shop owner, Hayes Noel, a stockbroker and Charles Gains, a writer. The experiment was to see if combat oriented hunters and foresters could actually best the city boys. They did. The first-ever winner of a paintball game was Granite State forest worker, Ritchie White, who supposedly captured all his flags without ever firing a shot, according to cousinspaintball.com.

According to LaBeef, all the paintballs are filled with water-soluble paint and the plastic shell encasing the paint is bio-degradable, so it’s all safe for the environment.

LaBeef said he has a lot of groups who show up these days, and those groups, to his liking are pretty diverse.

“I do bachelor parties, corporate parties, employee picnics, school functions and others groups,” he said.

“I have several teams that come regular,” LaBeef said. “But I also have groups that show up just to blow off steam. I get sports teams, I get groups of firefighters, police and even S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics ) teams. We get military groups too. One time we got a group of assistant DAs (district attorneys) they were a lot of fun.

But when it comes to who is the most serious, who takes it to heart with a passion unlike anyone else LaBeef said it’s not the police, the military or the sports people.

“Surprisingly, It’s the church groups,” said LaBeef, with a wide smile on his face and a chuckle in his throat. “Yep, it’s the priests and the pastors who are the rough ones to play against...they just don’t hold back.”

LeBeef said the clergy is almost as vicious as the Oswego (SUNY) female lacrosse team who came out last year and made the group of guys they were playing against quit, LaBeef recalled with a hearty laugh.

“They walked right off the field and said ‘we’re not playing against them anymore, they’re brutal,” Labeef recalled.

And then there are the serious paintball teams like GHOST or the ANKLE BUSTERS, made up of about 20-30 camouflaged clad men ranging in age from early 50s to 15 years old, who are regulars at the AAA Paintball Park. They even have leagues that compete at a national level. They come just about every weekend, resembling a special forces unit, complete with the attitude it takes to win.

Most players, like Matthew Wilkinson, are just regular working-class guys looking to unwind with friends. Wilkinson said he’s not an official member of a team, but a walk-on who enjoys going out with established teams.

“It gets me out into nature,” Wilkinson said. “Its about the time spent with the guys, the bonding that comes out of it, it’s just plain fun.”

Kahl McGill, a 19-year-old referee who’s worked at the park with his brother, Caleb, for the past five years said the park really nurtures future relationships, close relationships.

“By the end of the season you have so many new friends, mostly they become like family,” McGill said.

For pricing and group information visit www.aaapaintballpark.com, or call LaBeef at 315-623-9067. The park is located at 303 County Route 23, Constantia, N.Y. 13404.

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