Paintball making splash in Chinle

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, April 11, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Members of the Those Guys from Kayenta start to ambush the Dirty Dawgs of Montezuma Creek, Utah on Sunday afternoon during the Stormerz round-robin paintball tourney in Chinle.

SECOND FROM TOP: A paintballer takes cover behind a bunker while a pellet flies by during the Stormerz round-robin paintball tourney in Chinle on Sunday.

P aintball is growing up. If you can say that about a sport that involves dodging around inflatable barriers and shooting each other with gelatin capsules full of tinted vegetable oil.

"I've seen it take off," said Nathan Watts, 23, a member of the reservation's only professional paintball team, the Stormerz (yes, there are professional paintball teams).

The Stormerz hosted a tournament on their home turf Sunday, a marked-off, netted rectangle of land along the de Chelly Wash. It's a pretty rezzed-out paintball field, complete with bleating sheep in a nearby pen and a large red dog that has to be chased off the field from time to time. But make no mistake, these guys are serious competitors.

"We travel all over the country," said Watts, "and we do all right."

The Stormerz are part of both Paintball Sports Promotions and the National Professional Paintball League (yes, there are TWO national professional paintball associations), and have traveled to Chicago, Florida, Las Vegas, California and Texas to compete.

Last week in Phoenix, they placed first in the Southwest Paintball League Championships.

They've caught the eye of a California gear seller, JT Paintball, who is sponsoring them, "so we're all matching," Watts said.

Three of their members have traveled to Tennessee to become certified referees (yes, there are certified paintball referees).

Like so many things in America, the Stormerz started with a couple of guys "messing around," said team founder Edward Whitesinger, 49.

Eight years ago, "a friend of mine came back from Phoenix with a couple of paintball guns," Whitesinger recalled. "From there we started practicing and got a field."

At first, the "bunkers" (the things paintball players hide behind while shooting at their opponents) were just stacks of old tires, but now the Stormerz have graduated to official PSP inflatable barriers of different shapes.

The team itself, and their volunteer support staff, is pretty much made up of Whitesinger's family.

"It's my kids, my nieces and nephews," he said. "It's fun to travel with them."

Ask any paintball enthusiast what the draw is, and they'll reply similarly to Krista Begay, one of the two female Stormerz. "The adrenalin," she says.

The game is really a glorified version of the old backyard standard Capture the Flag, but the realistic guns and "bullets" provoke a primal response.

When you get hit, it stings a little, even through the padding. But worse, you're out of the game.

"It makes you angry," said Ramsay Hatalie of the Dirty Dogs, who placed third in Sunday's tournament, "because you want to play more."

Paintball equipment has also grown up. A professional-level gun can cost around $1,300 (by contrast, you can get a decent deer hunting rifle for about $110).

That's not including the ammunition, protective padding and traveling to tournaments. Which is why the Stormerz host tournaments, with a $250 entry fee (and top prize of $1,000).

"We just make enough money to keep going," Whitesinger said. "It's just a fun family thing."

As in a family, the most important skill for a paintball team is communication. Hiding behind your bunker, with paintballs flying everywhere, it's crucial to know where the enemy is and where your teammates are. This is accomplished by yelling.

Even the team members who have been ousted by being hit are allowed to get into the act, yelling through the fence. To the outsider, it sounds like gibberish.

"California! Dorito 2! Fifty's on the snake!"

It's actually sort of a code. Each team makes up different names for the differently shaped bunkers. To the Stomerz, for example, "Doritos" are the pyramidal ones.

As the only Navajo professional team, why not use Navajo words when they play off the rez?

"The kids don't know them," said Whitesinger. "If they learn to speak Navajo better, maybe we can."

Sunday's round-robin tourney, though, was pretty much all Navajo teams. "Those Guys", from Bluff, Utah and Farmington, took first place, with "The Warriors" from Kayenta, Ariz. and Chinle second, "Dirty Dogs" from Montezuma Creek, Utah third and and Stormerz "JV" team, "Rolling Thunder", fourth.

For a schedule of events and anything else you might like to know about the Stormerz, check out their Facebook page, STORMERZ Paintball Team.

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