1,200 show up to shoot with Shatner
(Originally published in the Press & Sun-Bulletin, Sept. 1, 2003)
By Wasim Ahmad
Press & Sun-Bulletin
The five soldiers holed themselves up in the castle, calmly scanning the horizon for any sign of enemy activity. They turned their heads in the direction of the sounds of gunshots in the distance, waiting for an attack.
After about 15 minutes, one of the members of the crew got antsy. He dropped the bazooka-type device he was holding, which in turn caused another to drop her grenade. Instantly, two people had been killed by “friendly fire,” victims of their own impatience. The dead put their bright orange covers on their guns, threw their hands up in the air, and walked off the field, covered in pink and purple paint.
I was an embedded reporter in a celebrity paintball game, and my team members had just knocked themselves out of what was called Castle Numbskull at EMR Paintball Park in New Milford, Pa.
EMR hosted SPPLAT Attack II from Friday to Sunday, a charity event that drew more than 1,200 people at its peak and pitted teams led by Star Trek actor William Shatner and paintball gun designer Tom Kaye against each other. This is the second year for the event, which drew people from countries and states as far away as Chile, California and Wisconsin, EMR operations manager Eric Fetterman said.
Tents lined the parking field at EMR Paintball Park. Some of the SPPLAT Attack II participants had been camping out since Friday night, waiting for Sunday’s big game. They sat around picnic tables and discussed strategies.
“If there’s 10 billion enemies closing in, you try to shoot them and run like hell,” said Eugene Chudakob, 26, of Brooklyn.
His friend Joann Campbell, 43, of Staten Island made it clear that battle-hardened paintball veterans don’t do that.
“Newbies do that,” Campbell said. “Us veterans that have been playing for 19 years stand our ground and fight.”
“Actually, there’s a lot of crawling,” Campbell’s husband, Chris, 47, reminded her.
While on the field, the players take on pseudonyms such as Preacher, Brutal, Pacman and Jester. No one who is serious about the extreme sport, as Fetterman bills it, goes by his real name. Creating fictitious names is part of the warrior mystique; even those who find fame in the paintball world do so under made-up names.
Paintball is not just a sport or a game, it’s a culture.
It’s more than just people paying to shoot brightly colored balls of paint at each other. In this game, players were assigned to teams and given orders to help play out the story line. Participants carried walkie-talkies with them, and commanders constantly shouted orders into them or called for reinforcements when trouble loomed. They spoke in fancy lingo that sounded as if it were lifted right out of a war movie. As troops made their way through dense forests, there were orders to quiet down, lest they be heard by their enemies.
Battalions stealthily moved through the trees, with members watching each others’ backs and pressing forward toward enemy encampments. Players parked themselves behind trees and rocks, waiting for opponents to let their guard down before moving out.
“You can plan as a group, and there’s a lot of camaraderie,” said Chad Mapes, 35, of Endicott. “It’s like playing war when you were a kid.”
Many of the players had costumes that separated them from the crowd. Mapes had a Star Trek action figure glued to his hat, while Rob Rubin, 32, of LaCrosse, Wis., dressed up as a cat-like figure, complete with a tail. Others chose more functional garb, such as tree leaves for camouflage or suits with as many pockets as possible, so they wouldn’t run out of ammunition.
“It’s a chance to let out aggression,” said Rubin, who goes by the name Tyger. “When else do you get to dress in a silly costume and shoot people?”
For my tour of duty, I joined the Raiders, partially because I thought the gray and black jerseys would afford me more cover, and partially because I wanted the opportunity to shoot Shatner, who was commanding the opposing blue team, the Cavalry.
I wasn’t going to get anywhere near Shatner, I soon realized. He was entrenched deep in enemy territory, with his “Magnificent 7” team guarding him.
I started out at the Raiders base, with some simple objectives — capture some buildings and keep our flags flying. There was something in there about stealing the enemy’s livestock (stuffed cows and sheep) from their base, too, but I was focused — much like everyone else — on just trying not to get shot.
After an unsuccessful attempt at defending the ill-fated Castle Numbskull, I tagged along with a wandering assault group. I had already “died” once and been reincarnated, or as paintballers put it, reinserted into the combat zone.
After following people who looked as if they knew what they were doing, and wandering through a good chunk of the 122 acres of paintball park, I came across an enemy defensive position. My teammates were cut down left and right, and I fell to the ground for cover from the paintballs whizzing by overhead. The madness didn’t last long.
I felt a sharp moment of pain, and I knew it was over.
I had taken a bullet — a pink one — to the head.
© 2003 Press & Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton, N.Y.