It hadn’t been a banner year for Tech’s club paintball team. The squad placed poorly at most of its 2011 events, and odds didn’t look great heading into the national tournament in Florida, where 52 top teams from around the country waited.
But club president Steve Fox, a second-year computer science major, held onto hope. The club had struggled, but its members formed a close bond through weekly 9 a.m. Sunday practices and long road trips.
“As cliche as it sounds, the first thing I usually think at the end of practice is that I can’t wait for next weekend to come so I can get right back out there with everyone,” Fox said. “It isn’t uncommon to see paintball teams bicker among themselves. But we haven’t had that problem, and I think that is one of the big things that sets us apart.”
When the national tournament began, Tech’s taggers took the field against higher-ranked foes. Ducking behind obstacles and launching staccato bursts of fire, the Jackets splattered the No. 1 and No. 4 teams with orange, knocking them out of the tournament. At the end of the weekend, Tech finished fourth overall.
“The entire experience was unreal,” Fox said. “Everything we had worked on for the whole year just started clicking, and we surprised a lot of people.”
Fox played paintball in high school and was excited his freshman year when he learned Tech had a team. Matches are staged in enclosed spaces filled with obstacles. Teams begin on opposite sides and fire paintballs from markers (guns powered by compressed air or carbon dioxide) until everyone from one side is “tagged” and eliminated.
At Tech, Fox learned the club level is far more competitive than recreational paintball, “like the difference between riding your bike to class and mountain biking.”
The team, which has 10-15 members year to year, practices for about five hours a week. They drill technical skills and scrimmage against squads from local colleges.
As president, it’s Fox’s job to manage the balancing act of work and fun.
“We try to have as much fun as possible at practice because it is just a club sport,” he said. “However, we always work hard and try to make the most of our time because, at the end of the day, we want to win tournaments.”