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Summer break heats up paintball battlefields

At Spring Hill's Elite Paintball, 50 to 60 players each weekend take part in commando-style battles on three types of fields.

Published June 12, 2006

SPRING HILL - As the late morning sun beats down on his back, Casey Moreland crouches at the ready, waiting for the referee's signal. He grips his weapon and shifts his goggles in anticipation of the battle that is about to begin.

When it does, the 15-year-old ducks as a hail of marble-size pellets falls around him. He waits behind his bunker and sizes up his best shot. What he doesn't see, however, is that an opponent has spotted him first and has him squarely in his sights.

A moment later, the teen feels the telltale sting of death on the paintball battlefield. The pink paint splatter that rolls down the side of his goggles means he's done and must surrender to the referee.

"That's the second time it's happened today," Moreland says a few minutes later. "I just wasn't looking where I should have been."

With summer here, things have been heating up at the Elite Paintball field in Spring Hill. The past few weekends have seen upward of 50 participants, most of them teens, who drop by the fields to play one of the fastest-growing recreational sports in the country.

For business owner Thuoc Vovan, it makes for a long day, but one he's happy to provide to the youths in his community.

"I try to make it comfortable for everybody to play," said Vovan, whose young clients call Mr. V. "We get a lot of beginners out here, and I want them to have just as good a time as the more experienced players."

The paintball complex offers just about every outdoor playing scenario a paintball enthusiast could want. For about $35 a day, novices can get outfitted with all the necessary hardware and equipment. The main "speedball" field offers fast-paced action and can accommodate up to 10 players at a time. In addition, there is a wooded field and an "attack and defend" fort for players who want a more realistic battlefield.

"If you're just getting into it, it's a pretty low-keyed place to learn," said Cory Zarcone, 16. "But if you want to play against really good paintballers, there's usually a bunch of them around, too"

Zarcone has been coming to the field nearly every weekend since it opened in February 2005. His dedication to paintballing is evident in the top-drawer equipment he has collected, including a $300 pro-grade paintball gun known in the sport's lingo as a marker and an equally impressive $700 collection of accessories. Most weekends, he hangs out with longtime friends Darren Doxey and Alex Flores, who are part of a fledgling tournament team that Zarcone hopes will compete in regional contests.

"A lot of guys are real serious about it," Zarcone said. "You get addicted to the adrenaline of playing because it's offensive and defensive at the same time. You never stop moving."

The sport, which was developed in the early 1970s to train military battlefield personnel, has blossomed in recent years as a favorite Generation X extreme sports pastime.

Although relatively safe, paintball is not without elements of discomfort, Vovan said. Paintballs, which are made from a latex-like material and filled with a water-based, biodegradable paint, do smart when they hit flesh.

Which is why paintball markers at Elite Paintball are regulated to a maximum 280 feet per second. Any more than that, and tissue damage and bleeding can occur.

On a recent afternoon, paintballer Brian Stine was struck by a "hot" paintball from an errant marker, which left a bloody welt near his elbow.

"It stung a lot at first, but you get over it pretty quick," said the teen. "You don't want anyone to think you're a wimp."

Indeed, there is no crying in paintball, Zarcone said.

"You've got to be able to take a good hit and not whine. It's part of the game," he said, adding that players who do complain generally have a tough time finding others who will play them.

Elite Paintball does enforce strict safety rules. Goggles are a must inside the playing areas. Markers must be calibrated to proper pressure allowances before they are allowed on the fields, and players are required to place a muzzle cover over their weapons whenever they are not in play.

During games, players are not allowed to "bunker" or charge a player closer than 20 feet. And though protective clothing isn't required, many players opt to wear baggy pants and shirts, which not only help absorb the sting, but also help prevent balls from splattering.

The games, which replicate commando-style battles between two opposing forces, are monitored by referees, who enforce rules and check for hits on players' bodies. By rule, anyone who is hit with a paintball is eliminated from the game. The team with the most remaining players is the winner.

Vovan says that though paintball is a natural attraction for teenagers, he has a number of older adults who play regularly as well, including a number of Hernando County sheriff's deputies.

"We have a lot of families that come out, too - birthday parties, even church groups," Vovan said.

Darlene LaRosa-Kowalski and her husband, Robert, typically visit Elite Paintball about once month with a group of other paintball enthusiasts. Their contests, she says, can become quite aggressive.

"We love it because it's fast-paced and it keeps you on your toes," LaRosa-Kowalski said. "By the end of the day, you may be tired and whipped, but at least you can say you've had a lot of fun."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or at

IF YOU GO: Elite Paintball of Spring Hill is at 4644 Keysville Ave. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 584-2384.

[Last modified June 12, 2006, 08:14:40]

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