International paintball tournament comes to fairgrounds
Carrying paintball guns that would embarrass most big game hunters, more than 1,500 competitors will descend next month on the Big Butler Fairgrounds for what promoters say is the largest amateur paintball tournament in the world.
The fairgrounds, which play host to such events as the annual Big Butler Fair and occasional livestock shows, tractor pulls and car swap meets, will be transformed into more than a half-dozen playing fields, each of them with at least one inflatable bunker.
Teams of competitors from around the world, firing paint-filled gelatin caps from oversized air guns, will try to outgun each other for prizes and prestige in the Diablo International Amateur Paintball Open and Trade Show.
It's "the largest amateur tournament in the world," said Debra Dion Krischke, who is helping promote the event, set for Aug. 7 to 11. Competitors from Aruba, Brazil, Canada, England, France and Japan are expected to compete.
The fairgrounds also will be home to the largest paintball trade show of its kind, she said.
Krischke should know.
More than 20 years ago, she began working for the National Survival Game, the New Hampshire company credited with creating the sport of paintball as it is known today.
Articles about the first game sponsored by the company, written by players, were published in Sports Illustrated in the early 1980s and in a number of other magazines.
Back then, competitors battled each other in the woods, dressed in anything from camouflage outfits to denim pants and flannel shirts.
Recreational paintball still is played in that kind of setting, said Krischke, who continues to be involved in the paintball industry. But tournament play is another matter.
In tournaments, contestants compete on regulation-size playing fields, with inflatable bunkers, and the fields are surrounded by bleachers so spectators can watch today's more sophisticated version of the sport.
Shawn Grubbs, 18, of Cranberry Township and four others, all members of Team Fraction, will compete during the tournament.
For Grubbs, a recent Seneca Valley High School graduate, it is another step toward his dream of becoming a professional paintball player. He's been playing paintball for about five years, and competing about three years.
Just a few days ago, the team competed in Chicago, where it placed fourth among rookie teams. Grubbs wasn't complaining. "It was our first big tournament as a team," he said.
In addition to amateur competitors, about 60 professional paintball players from around the world also are expected to compete in exhibition matches.
Thousands of spectators are expected to watch the competition and shop at the trade show, Krischke said.
More than a dozen tractor-trailers, representing the biggest manufacturers of paintball accessories in the world, are scheduled to be on hand, she said.
"It's unbelievable how this thing is morphing," she said. "In the last 10 years, it has gone mainstream."
For the past 11 years, amateur tournaments have been held at Three Rivers Paintball in Cranberry Township, a wooded site owned by Krischke and her husband, Ryan.
"The industry needed an amateur event. At that time, there were just professional events," said Krischke, recounting the first amateur event conducted in the county.
But as amateur competition has grown, the Cranberry site has become too small for a tournament and trade show, she said.
"We just outgrew it," she said.
The fairgrounds site along Route 422 was chosen for this year's event because of its large size — it can accommodate multiple playing fields — and large trade show area, she said.
"The game at the tournament level has come out of the woods, and now, it's being played in netted arenas, with these big, inflatable bunkers, and with bleachers … so people can watch the games," she said. "It's really a metamorphosis here of what's happening with this industry and this sport (internationally). And we're sort of on the leading edge."
It's also vital that spectators have an opportunity to see paintball competitions, she said.
"If we're ever going to evolve with the other extreme sports, we have to be watchable," she said.
Krischke said print and broadcast media from around the world are expected to cover the tournament.
Along with the tournament and trade show, freestyle motocross and bicycle motocross exhibition shows will be conducted. A punk-pop concert also is planned.
"We're just trying to get more things out there for people to watch," she said.
Next month's event is sponsored by Diablo, a maker of paintballs and paintball accessories, and presented by Dick's Sporting Goods.
Ben Roenigk, a member of the board of directors of the Butler Fair and Agricultural Association, which oversees the Big Butler Fairgrounds, said he is delighted the paintball tournament and trade show are going to take place at the fairgrounds.
While it's far different from anything else held there, he said, he is excited that those organizing the event chose the fairgrounds.
"It's something else for the community," he said.
|Paintball an appealing, fun way to make a real mess|
Paintball is a combination of three seemingly simple games — "Hide and Seek," "Tag" and "Capture the Flag" — with a bit of bravado.
The bravado comes from the paintballs, paint-filled gelatin capsules that are fired from sinister-looking air guns.
A player hit by a paintball fired by an opposing team member is considered killed and expelled from the game, which leaves the remaining team members to try to capture a flag from the opposing team.
Paintball is played in more than 45 countries by millions of men and women of all ages and lifestyles, according to PCRI, an Internet magazine devoted to the sport.
Along with recreational paintball players and amateur paintball teams, there are professional paintball teams, which travel around the world competing for thousands of dollars in prizes.
Since its meager beginning in the early 1980s, paintball has blossomed into a $1.2 billion a year industry, according to Debra Dion Krischke, part-owner of Three Rivers Paintball, a paintball field in Cranberry Township.
More information about the Diablo International Amateur Paintball Open and Trade Show is available by calling (724) 775-8299 or by visiting www.teameffortevents.com on the Web.