Team building with paint: MTU paintball club is competitive, inclusive

Photo provided to the Daily Mining Gazette Michigan Tech’s paintball club team poses at the NCPA Midwest Intercollegiate Tournament earlier this year.

HOUGHTON — Austin Purdy, a third-year mechanical engineering technologies major, and president of the paintball club, at Michigan Tech, has been involved in the sport of paintball for nine years and enjoys playing it while going to school in the Copper Country.

Michigan Tech’s paintball club functions with two groups, one whose members compete in midwest tournaments and one whose members are made up of students in the paintball-themed physical education course the university offers.

“We’re a lot different than most clubs,” said Purdy. “We have (two) groups of members. (One is made up of) people who come out and play on the weekends. We call them weekend warriors. We have our main group of guys who are officers and who help run the club, (and they) play tournaments with us.

“We have that aspect of the club that (involves) our main group of (players) who play tournaments with us around the states in the Midwest. We compete (in) different events, but we also are the main hosts of any of the events that (happen) on our paintball field, (from) private parties to gym classes (and) free ball in the winter. We have a little bit of everything.”

Purdy says that the main goal of the club is just to share their passion for the activity with those around them.

“Our main goal of the club is to just bring paintball to everyone in the community so that they can see how great it is,” he said.

The paintball club offers two classes each semester for 35 students each. The participants are provided with the equipment needed to play and are taught strategy and technique of the game.

“In terms of classes, we have two classes that count as physical education credits,” said Purdy. “I believe 35 (students) can sign up. We provide you with all of your gear (so that you can) play paintball for the first day, and then after that we’ll teach you skills to be a better player. By the end of the course, (students) have much more knowledge of paintball and (that) will just make playing paintball more fun (for them).”

As paintball is not a mainstream activity, Purdy and his fellow officers know they will be spending a lot of time teaching the fundamentals to new players.

“Up here at Michigan Tech, we have a lot of students who don’t play paintball,” he said. “(The) core players, who’ve played events before, bring (those newer) players in and teach them the fundamentals.”

Purdy compares the strategy necessary to participate to that of games like chess or sports such as hockey. The game is played in indoor recreation areas that include inflatable bunkers and outdoor play is often inside a dome in wooded areas.

“There are tons of fundamentals in terms of how to hold your paintball marker, how to look at a paintball field (and) the different types of paintball you’re playing, (whether it is) in the woods or on an airball field,” Purdy said. “The strategy is a lot like chess or hockey if paintball is (being) watched in tournament play. There’s a lot of strategy involved that people don’t know about. The great thing about paintball is (that) you can go with your buddies and have fun or you can get into the strategy of how everything works.”

Much like any other sport, Purdy compares his club members to a family, much like sports teams try to grow together over the course of a season in order to be able to play their best come playoff time. Much like a large family, the “older siblings” have to help the “younger siblings” learn the ropes.

The team practices outside during the warmer months and transitions to the SDC during the winter in preparation for tournaments.

“We’re a family,” he said. “We teach each other. It’s a group of friends who go out and play. We practice (in) the SDC on Sundays, no matter what, and we (have really) become a team.

“The biggest part of paintball is communication and when we put together a team, it’s all of our friends so we have good communication.”

“In the fall, we have our own field, but in the winter we reserve the SDC during closing hours for safety reasons,” said Purdy. “This year we have reball (that are) little rubber paintballs. We turn the markers down, so they feel like regular paintballs and we’ll set up our fields in the SDC’s multipurpose room and we practice there for two-three hours on Sunday nights.”

Since joining the club, Purdy has seen it grow into a much more high-functioning group that has expanded. He has big goals for the club in the future.

“Since I’ve been here, the club has become more involved in everything,” he said. “When I (joined) the club, we were just a one-time special class and now we’re an actual gym class with two sections. We have a lot more private parties and community play. This is the first year that we’ve had two lines (teams) for tournament play in a long time.”

Naturally, with improved numbers and competition comes the need for some higher quality equipment.

“We (have worked) to get nicer equipment,” Purdy said. “We’re just working on changing the environment to make paintball, in my vision, something everyone tries at least once while here at Michigan Tech.”

The paintball club team competes in the National Collegiate Paintball Association against other college paintball teams of the same caliber.

“Paintball can not only be a team sport, but you can take it on and go places with it,” said Purdy. “The biggest thing is that it is both mentally (and) physically challenging, so it helps your mentality. It helps relieve stress. The way that people are passionate about hockey or basketball, there are also people who are passionate about paintball.”

“We play in NCPA and we travel around the Midwest to go participate in tournaments against other college teams,” Purdy said. “It’s typically five-on-five-on-five in speedball format (with) air-bunkers. We try and practice every weekend. With the snow, it sometimes (is) a little difficult (to do). (We also) have team-bonding to build up the team and get comfortable (with each other).

“Teaching the new students is a great way for veteran players to also learn what we don’t know and to correct things that we can work on.”

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