Last year, the UT Paintball Club lacked a sense of direction. Practices were sparse, cohesion was lacking and, more importantly, the team was devoid of any chemistry. It’s often said that “a year makes a world of difference,” and for the paintball squad, that aphorism rings true.
This year, new president Alan Outeiral, a sophomore criminology major, vowed to drastically reshape the club and make it something worth noticing. The first step? Establishing a new culture that emphasized consistency and camaraderie.
“If you’re going to play on a sports team you have to be friends. There’s mandatory practice every Sunday, we hang out with each other outside of practice, and all new players go through a proper introduction to the team so you don’t feel like the new guy,” Outeiral said. “In addition to that, we have multiple sponsors that help support the team.”
The paintball club currently plays in the collegiate AA division, a space typically reserved for up-and-coming teams looking to elevate their game, which is the perfect situation for the relatively inexperienced UT Squad. Aside from Outeiral, the team is comprised almost entirely of newcomers, meaning the team began the year with little foundation. In fact, the sophomore captain has taught each individual on the team how to play.
Paintball is a very demanding sport, both physically and monetarily. Exorbitant costs are often the biggest eyebrow raiser for those just starting out, as the cost for safety gear, paintballs and markers (guns) can break into the thousand dollar threshold. Once the cost is out of the way, players must go through rigorous training to keep up with the fast-paced, high octane sport.
Despite the outlying challenges, Outeiral has assembled a formidable young squad that will be heading to the 2015 National Paintball Championship, which runs April 17-19 in nearby Lakeland. Over forty colleges from across the nation will be present, including reputable Division I schools such as Penn State, Northwestern and top-ranked University of Central Florida (UCF).
At the tournament, which serves as the grand culmination to the season, the team will participate in a version of the game called “Race-to-2,” a game in which the first team to achieve two consecutive captures of the flag in the center wins the round. Each team is allowed five players on the field at a time, and must immediately exit the field if shot. According to Outeiral, though, it is essentially a contest of who can withstand elimination.
“Because there are five people with five different guns shooting at you, you typically eliminate that team, then you get the flag, and then you hang it,” he said. “It’s not a ‘grab the flag, and try to hang it with enemy players still standing. You wipe the field, and then you hang the flag. First to two wins. If you tie there’s a third overtime point.”
On the whole, paintball still retains a respectable presence in the United States, despite research showing a dropoff in overall participation level. A data collection website that tracks popular statistics, only 3.5 million Americans participated in the sport in 2015, as opposed to 5.5 million in 2006, according to Statista.
Regardless of the waning popularity, colleges still take the game seriously. According to Forbes, foundations exist to support the furtherment of paintball participation at the collegiate level.
“In The Paintball Scholarship Fund,” the article reads, “Students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA, proof of acceptance in a two or four year accredited college, letters of recommendation – including, crucially, one from their local paintball field owner – as well as confirmation of involvement in promoting paintball in the applicant’s community.”
In terms of innovation, UT’s club is ahead of the curve. Just two years after its inception, the team has quietly pieced together a cohesive, tournament-bound squad, proving that paintball deserves to be taken seriously. But make no mistake–they have a little fun too. “I want them to win and do well,” Outeiral said. “But really, the key is to have a good time, and maybe later down the road stay friends because of it.”
Griffin Guinta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.