Paintball aims for revival

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Phil Michaud stays low to avoid getting hit during paintball action on July 30 at the Old Town softball field.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Phil Michaud stays low to avoid getting hit during paintball action on July 30 at the Old Town softball field.

An initiative is underway to get the sport of paintball back to its glory days in Hay River.

That would be just a couple of years ago when 30 or more people would turn out to play.

The recreation department of the Town of Hay River held learn to play paintball events on July 30 for the first time this summer and again on Aug. 7.

Dale Loutit, the recreation programmer with Town of Hay River, said the idea of the learn-to-play clinics is to get more people involved to see how much fun it is to play paintball.

“Because you are outside exercising and socializing with people, as well,” she said. “It’s a pretty fun sport.”

Loutit said her predecessor as recreation director had a paintball program going for a couple of years but it didn’t take place last summer because of the municipal workers strike.

“The year before I heard that it was pretty popular,” she said.

On July 30, a half-dozen people showed up for paintball at the Old Town softball field, and that number increased to 10 on Sunday.

Loutit said she was pleased to see the increased number of players.

“I’m hoping we can go to September or October depending on the availability of the volunteers because I depend a lot on them to have this going, as well,” she said. “So it’s dependent on the weather and volunteers. I’d like to even go into October because it’s nice weather still.”

Ryan Heron is a member of the Hay River Paintball Group and one of the volunteers who help presents the clinics.

“It’s about the kids. It always was,” he said. “And about getting them out and getting them active, learning how to be sportsmen on the field, and having respect.”

Heron, who has been a player for nine years both in town and on the Hay River Reserve, said paintball has to be structured and it has to be disciplined.

Two or three years ago, paintball would attract two dozen or more people on game day in Hay River, he recalled. “On busy days it could get up over 30 people.”

Heron described it as a fun sport.

“You don’t have to approach it thinking you have to be an Olympic athlete in order to play,” he said. “It’s all about having fun and that’s what we push. It’s worth your time to at least stop and take a look at the game.”

The town has various pieces of equipment for paintball, including markers (the term used to describe paintball guns) and bunkers (the inflatable structures behind which players can take cover while firing at other players).

In addition, the town partners with K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) which also has equipment for the sport. KFN has been providing the town with an air compressor and paint.

Loutit said players can be as young as about 13 years of age and up to adults.

Parents have to sign a waiver for anyone under 18 years of age.

Somewhat curiously, Loutit is a supporter of paintball even though she has never actually played.

“I haven’t shot a marker,” she said, although she added that players tell her she will be hooked as soon as she does.

Loutit said paintball is a good way to have fun with people, is good exercise, and is secure and safe.

Plus, she said it’s not just a sport for males.

“I think women should be coming out, as well,” she said. “I think it’s a good way to just de-stress and let off some steam.”

Loutit, who has been working on paintball since March, said dedicated volunteers are required for the sport.

“We need lots of volunteers for it because we do have to transfer the bunkers and all the gear from one area to another in the Old Town,” she said. “We don’t have all of our stuff stored on site. So in order to transfer it we need trucks and we need hands, otherwise it could take two people hours just to set up.”

–Paul Bickford