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Citadel News Service

Sat. Oct. 19, 2002

Cadet paintballers bound for World Cup

by Edward C. Fennell
of the Charleston Post and Courier staff

reprinted with permission

          In 1861, a team of Citadel cadets made history by loading a cannon and firing the first shots of the Civil War. These days, another team of cadets hopes to make some less dramatic history - not with cannon balls but with paintballs.

          The military college's first paintball team is ranked 18th in the country among amateurs and has been invited to play next week in the 2002 World Cup competition in Kissimmee, Fla. More than 300 professional and amateur paintball teams, including another team from the Paintball Charleston store on Dorchester Road, will compete at the World Cup.

          Paintball competition, in which teams wear protective gear and meet in close, combat-like situations, is not only a huge adrenaline rush but also a huge drain on the pocketbook, said team leader Brian Hess, a senior from Baltimore.

          At The Citadel, paintball is a club sport not supported by the school. Players must pay for their equipment and practice, off campus, on their own time.

          "We've put a lot of time and a lot of money into this. Everyone here has laid out at least two grand," Hess said.

          Hess said compressed air-powered paintball "guns" cost up to $1,000 each. A case of marble-sized paint balls is $40, and the nitrogen gas canisters that propel the paintballs run about $5 each.

          Then there are helmets and padded shorts needed for protection from paintballs that leave the gun at 200 mph.

          The 10 cadets each had experienced paintball competition before coming to The Citadel, and two team members played in the World Cup previously while in high school. Hess has the most experience, with eight years.

          "It's a different kind of team sport," Hess said. "It's a rush. You are constantly on the move. It's non-stop."

          Though cadets receive a military education, Hess said battlefield tactics are not helpful in this kind of competition. The sport is more like SWAT team combat, he said.

          "What they have accomplished is phenomenal," said Vic Brandt, the team's faculty advisor.

          Brandt said he believes cadet training has allowed the team to advance quickly in a very competitive sport.

          The training they get in discipline, and the lessons they learn in team work and camaraderie have helped them to get to this level." he said.

          Brandt recalled with a smile the first time The Citadel team played against Clemson, the only other collegiate paintball team in the state.

          While the Clemson team was attired in standard paintball gear including T-shirts and shorts, The Citadel team showed up in camouflage, boots and military helmets. "They looked like they had been in Afghanistan a few months," Brandt said.

          While Clemson won the battle that day, Brandt said the cadets emerged a much better team.

          The cadet team practices on a James Island field while hoping the college will agree to give them more support and a place to practice on campus, Brandt said.

          Team paintball usually involves a capture-the-flag-like game in which each squad runs, jumps and crawls around inflatable buildings and fires little red balls of biodegradable red-dyed vegetable oil at opposing team members while trying not to be hit themselves.

          Getting a red blotch anywhere on your body, even the hand, means you have been terminated.

          Hess said the World Cup has asked the 12 collegiate teams invited, including The Citadel's, to try a new paintball game called Xball. Hess said Xball employs aspects of football, hockey and soccer, into two 15-minute periods of play.

          Although paintballs can sting and bruise, the cadets insist the sport is safer than golf, where players are sometimes struck by lightning.

          In fact, getting hit can be a point of pride.

          "I've got 11 welts on me from yesterday," team member Nick Frantz said.

          Frantz, a sophomore from Greer, and Hess will make the World Cup trip with fellow team members Jay Lane, a sophomore from Jacksonville, N.C.; Vic Brandt, a sophomore from Charleston; David Ball, a junior from Houston; Anthony James, a junior from Lake City; Erick Silitoe, a junior from Cedar Run; Mackie Rachman, a freshman from Fort Myers, Fla.; John Tarsitano, a sophomore from Savannah; and Michael "Wolf" Honefenge, a sophomore from Houston.