By Jerry Sudduth

It started with an online forum last summer, a discussion about interest in a paintball team at Eastern.From those simple beginnings, the Colonel paintball team has grown into a bona fide national contender.

At the beginning of last semester, five people met at the Powell Building to begin forming what would become Eastern’s paintball team.

Those players brought friends to join and, without their own training facilities, the team practiced in fields.

Now, the paintball team has blossomed to eight core players.

Of 58 teams in the nation, Eastern sits at 27th, putting them on the verge of making the 25-team national tournament between April 18-20 in Lakeland, Fla.

Team founder and captain Will Hatten, a senior history major, said the team’s progress pleases him.

Hatten has owned a paintball gun since he was in the fifth grade, when he began playing in the woods with his friends. By the time he’d reached the seventh grade, Hatten began entering tournaments.

The paintball team at Eastern is a culmination of his efforts, and Hatten hopes to see it gain the kind of recognition the Colonels’ hockey team enjoys.

“Our goal is to be a visible club sport,” Hatten said, “and (for) EKU to be prominent in paintball.”

With the success the team has earned already, it may not be long before their members reach celebrity status around campus.

The team, which plays in the Southeast Conference in the National Collegiate Paintball Association (NCPA), has played in tournaments at Clemson, Tennessee and Florida State, finishing sixth, fifth and seventh respectively.

The Colonels defeated Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Embry-Riddle in these tournaments. Hatten said defeating Embry-Riddle was particularly important as it is a well-known paintball school.

The paintball team isn’t full of a bunch of good ol’ boys looking to shoot each other with paintballs in some backwoods jamboree.

They are serious competitors who spend time and money to become better at their sport.

The game is fast-paced and, while it does employ military terms such as “pushing the flank,” these matches are not war games; however, some of the concepts practiced on the paintball field actually are implemented on the battlefield.

The games are called speedball for a reason: the average game lasts from two to three minutes.

Rarely does a game reach the five-minute limit.

The goal is to score 100 points, and points are scored for various achievements during the game.

50 points are awarded for planting the team flag in the opponents’ flag station.

Points are also awarded for taking the opponents’ flag, and for players who make it through the game unscathed.

The teams play these matches in a tournament format, with the top two teams facing off to determine a winner.

NCPA regulations call for 5-on-5 matches, but other sanctioning bodies allow 3-on-3 and 7-on-7 matches.

A silent 10-count starts the match.

All players begin the match at a designated end of the course with their guns touching a net; this ensures that no player begins the game in an advantageous position.

Each player has a designated field of fire, covering individual angles as the team moves forward, pressing their opponents’ flanks and providing covering fire for teammates.

These tactics share some elements with those found in Army and Marine Corps field manuals.

Paintball courses have no set dimensions, and can be located both indoors and outdoors.

Each course has a minimum of 20 air-filled bunkers to serve as barriers, known as blow-up fields.

The standard paintball gun for Eastern’s team fires a .68 caliber paint pellet at 300 feet per second.

The weapons are also equipped with electronics, which help the player fire more effectively.

The paintballs are loaded into a hopper, located on top of the weapon, which uses gravity to feed rounds into the gun.

Players are forced to rely on limited stores of ammunition, as well.

Team members carry 200-round tubes in packs on their backs to quickly reload their guns.

A paint pellet traveling at high speed has the potential to cause serious physical harm.

Consequently, players are required to wear protective helmets and long-sleeved shirts. All of this equipment isn’t cheap and, combined with the entrance fee for events, the price to play paintball can run high.

Paintballs cost from $30 to $50 per case, and a typical event can consume between seven to 10 cases.

As a result, the bill for a game can run about $100 per person.

Approval as a club sport helps to cover expenses.

The paintball team is on probation this year, but has already been approved for next year.

Sponsorships from paintball equipment companies also soften the financial blow.

The team currently has three potential sponsors.

With the success the new paintball team has already had, it is hard to imagine they won’t receive sponsorship money.

Eastern’s success has put other college paintball teams on notice, and that success is attributable to Hatten and his players.

“We are a serious sport,” Hatten said, “we have a dedicated group of guys and one girl on the roster. We want to establish ourselves as one of the top teams in the country, and we’re well on our way to doing that.”

So far, it seems the Eastern paintball team is moving in the right direction for that goal.