As Josh Underhill sat watching his favorite sport on TV, he sat up and took notice when he heard the announcer say that the high school division of paintball would be showing the next day. That's when the thought struck him. Wouldn't it be great to have a paintball team at Fortuna Union High School?
He immediately started campaigning to get his idea off the ground.
"I went to a couple of the staff and asked what it would take to start a paintball team here at the school," Underhill said. "I picked Mr. Louv because he is one of my favorite teachers and I knew once I got him on board, he'd add a lot of positive energy!"
Louv was no stranger to the game. "I consider it an honor to be the sponsor to the Fortuna High School Paintball Club," he said. "When they approached me about it, I thought, what a great idea! My son plays paintball so he invited me to play a couple of times. It was fun."
It took a while to get the ball rolling because of the concerns with the insurance. "Mr. Dexter was on the phone a lot, playing phone tag with the insurance companies," said Robin Eckerfield, secretary to Fortuna High School Principal Gordon Dexter. "But after a couple of weeks the liability factor was ironed out and Josh got the go-ahead."
Underhill was ecstatic. Now he could play the sport that had captivated his imagination since he was 8 years old.
"I moved here from Fort Bragg and immediately started looking for somewhere to play. I asked around and met up with Brandon Andrews, a junior here at Fortuna High, and he took me up to the Pine Ridge Paintball course.
"At first I admit I thought it was pretty rinky dink," he laughed. "I changed my mind once I started meeting some of the players they have up there. They are nationally ranked players and some of them have traveled to Europe and the United Kingdom to play. I met Chris Dazi, a guy from Rio Dell, who plays for the Portland Naughty Dogs. They're famous! They've played all over the country."
Paintball is a relatively new sport, started in the early 1980s . It's pretty easy to imagine how it all began. A couple of loggers are kicked back taking a break from marking the trees to be thinned out. As one of them gets up to go, his buddy eyes the marker resting across his lap mischievously. As his unsuspecting buddy heads out, thwunk! He gets a big splat of paint in the center of his back. Furiously, he whirls and grabs his marker -- and so the games begin!
Paintball is a safe, fun sport that attracts players of all ages. You could roughly describe it as capture-the flag plus tag in the form of a water fight. Two teams of various sizes each try to capture the other team's flag and return it to their own starting point. A player tagged by a paintball is out.
The paintballs, gelatin capsules filled with a paint-like liquid, break when they hit and release the liquid, marking the target. A marked player is out of that round. The players must wear masks to protect their faces, eyes and ears.
Paintball is safer than football, soccer and baseball. That's because there is no person-to-person contact or tackling like in football. The most common mishaps are from running in the woods. But the reason paintball has had such a good record is one firm, fast rule: Wear the mask.
The National Collegiate Paintball Association has been working to establish a high school league. They think it is better for high school players to participate in tournaments against their own age group. It is the same philosophy as not wanting your child playing soccer or basketball against 30-plus-year-olds. High school leagues are much cheaper, and they are geared towards friendly play.
"A high school league is cheaper, but to be honest, it's very expensive," Underhill said. "My dream is to get sponsors and to raise money from car washes and other fundraisers so the players who join my high school paintball team won't have to pay for paint."
This enthusiastic student had already drummed up a sponsor and sprung a car wash on his teammates in the first week. "We did really well! We earned over $200 in three hours," he said.
Underhill has 15 on his roster, but he concedes the numbers are bound to fluctuate a bit. "We'll get some dropping off and I'll add a few who are on the waiting list. I started with 20."
One of the reasons for the capricious numbers could be the expense. "A player needs a mask, a marker, paint balls and a CO2 tank. When you arrive at the course they supply the new player with everything he will need," he said.
"We show up to the meetings and we practice on Sunday at noon," he explained. "We only have one female right now but there are some really good female players out there. One of the top ranked teams, sixth or seventh I think, are called the Fem Fatales."
Pine Ridge Paintball is excited about the club and has offered to help the new team out with a break in prices, and of course expertise and encouragement. Because the club is just starting out, they are trying to keep the costs down to $50 each player every Sunday.
"This is a great sport! It builds confidence, instills teamwork and is a great place to meet friends," Underhill said. "We're going to try our best to get it going. If anyone is interested in helping out with a donation, they can send it to email@example.com. And if you're free some sunny Sunday, come on up and watch!"