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Monday, April 3, 2006

Could a Canadian Woodsball Team Successfully Storm the Speedball World?

Could a Canadian Woodsball Team Successfully Storm the Speedball World? By Jordan F. Ricks

Nestled in the picturesque countryside near Halifax, Canada, a battle-worn speedball field rests peacefully in the early morning shadows of towering elm trees and native oaks. The stained inflatable bunkers and trampled grass of Mersey Road Paintball projects a striking visual contrast to the serene backdrop of the untainted Nova Scotia landscape; yet, the speedball field somehow seems perfectly suited to exist alongside some of Mother Nature's finest work.

The symbolic coexistence of speedball and woodsball couldn't be more apparent, and it provides the ideal stage for a small band of woodsball brothers who have unwittingly stumbled into paintball's international spotlight.

Armed with Tippmann A-5s and an uncompromising commitment to the "honor and integrity" of the sport, the Tippinators set out on a simple quest to "conquer new challenges" and increase the "fun factor" of their paintball play. Team members had no idea that their journey would draw international media and sponsorship attention.

But the media lens isn't focused on an impressive collection of trophies, point tallies, or prize winnings. Instead, the attention is concentrated on the ripples caused by four avid woodsballers who jumped into icy tourney waters to play in some speedball tournaments.

Bound by friendship and common ideals of fair play, honor, and respect, Austin Flaherty, Bruce "Charon" Johnston, Scott Knowles, and Bryan McClare comprise the nucleus of the popular Tippinators speedball team. Though they frequently crash inflatable bunkers on Saturdays, the four continue to stalk the woodsball field every Sunday.

Johnston, the team's captain, mixes a healthy dose of idealism with reality, and there is nothing that he doesn't feel optimistic about. As a former sniper for the Canadian armed forces, he has a deep appreciation for the value of respect and positive relationships. His specialized military training not only gives him an edge on the paintball field, but has also provided him with a vantage point that offers an unobstructed perspective on what is important in life. He simply doesn't allow paintball's ongoing family feud between tourney and woodsball players to be a distraction - and neither do his teammates. The Tippinators see no boundaries within the sport, and they don't feel compelled by the need to prove anything.

So, in the spirit of sportsmanship and pursuit of new challenges, Johnston and his teammates took their fun-loving, play-with-honor style and stormed the bridge into Tourneyland. As the team arrived for their first tournament, several event organizers mistakenly offered to help them find their way to the recball field. But each time, Flaherty responded with a smile, "That's okay, we're here to play in the tournament."

In a sea of electro-pneumatic paintball guns and brightly colored jerseys, the A-5 wielding woodsballers (dressed in camouflage pants and T-shirts) looked like victims of a cruel practical joke. But for some reason, the victims still hadn't realized their folly and they continued to prepare as if they were going to play. Surely someone would tell them that they took a wrong turn off of Highway 103.

Tourney players didn't know what to make of the newcomers, and were unsure if this band of misfit warriors was mocking speedball or hell-bent to prove the superior skills of woodsball players. Like a rack-of-lamb floating in fish chum off the Great Barrier Reef, the crowd watched the scenario team with eager anticipation of a feeding frenzy.
But the Tippinators quickly dispelled any notions that they were there as "bait" or to provide comic relief. The woodsballers quickly gained respect from their fast-shooting tourney foes with their smart play and gritty determination. And though they were outgunned by the electro pneumatic tourney markers, the Tippinators couldn't be outclassed. In typical, humble fashion, Johnston was the first to say, "It wasn't the A-5's that were out performed, it was the team. Some of the players out there were really amazing, and it was fun watching them - and a thrill to compete against them. We had a great time and made a lot of new friends, as ilustrated with an online post, "Iheard about the Tippinators. Aren't they the guys that use A-5s, never cheat, always shake hands, and just play to have fun?"

During the course of the event, the Tippinators managed to defeat the team that ultimately took first place. But the victory on the field paled in comparison to their long-term victory achieved that day. Their honorable play was hailed at the event and their skills earned them respect from top tourney players. In turn, the Tippinators gained a new appreciation for their speedball counterparts, proudly shaking the hands of those who had handed them defeat moments earlier on the field.

After each game, former opponents curiously examined each other's unique markers with the same enthusiastic fascination as African bushmen seeing their first photographs. Several speedballers were amazed that three burly guys with mil-sim markers could put up such a fierce fight in a sport that emphasizes high-performance electro-markers, as well as lightning speed and reflexes.

The Tippinators continue to participate in speedball tournaments with their A-5 markers, and have competed against top regional speedball teams such as: Team Overkill, Phoenix Gold (from Overkill Sportz), Speed Demons, and Unforgiven. Johnston and his players consistently collect more wins and improve their speedball skills, but more importantly to the Canadian scenario players is that they continue to earn respect and gain new friends.

The ripples produced by the Tippinators have also lapped onto the shores of sponsors, who are proudly associating themselves with the team. Team sponsors include Mersey Road Paintball, Special Ops Paintball, Flurry Industries Paintball, Discount Car & Truck Rentals, M&M Meat Shop of Dartmouth, NS, Metro Micro Products, Nova Trophy, 3m Trim Line, and Overkill Sportz.

In addition to the infectious, fun-loving style of the Tippinators, the team's sportsmanship and integrity is near legendary status among locals and continues to impact the sport around them. Following the OKSportz 3-man Rookie/Novice Tournament on October 15, Overkill Sportz' president, Carter Johnson made an unprecedented announcement:

"A special award was given out today - 'Most Sportsmanship'. We asked for input from all the refs and the Tippinators came out on top. These guys just ooze class, both on and off the field. I think their team motto pretty much sums it up: 'Shake hands, play hard, have fun, make new friends, remember that it is just a game.'"

"If nothing else," Flaherty states, "I'm glad that we've had the chance to play in tournaments. Now, maybe some of the speedball players will come out to the next scenario event and remember where the sport started - in the woods."

Regardless, the Tippinators have succeeded in their quest to expand their "fun factor," and the ripples of their plunge into speedball are being felt on shores far beyond Canada's eastern coastline. In this remote corner of the paintball world, the icy relations of the woods vs. tourneyball cold war have simply melted into the waters of the North Atlantic; and honest play is being repaid by equally honorable opponents.

A handful of fun-loving woodsball players have injected paintball with a new dose of hope, and given the sport a genuinely proud moment. Perhaps a few individuals can make a difference. Perhaps other teams (and attitudes) will follow. Perhaps this will be more than a fleeting moment in the game's history and signify another step in the evolution of a rapidly changing sport. Those who have been a part of paintball's changing landscape near Halifax, have seen that wishful idealism has already been surpassed. Perhaps a new standard is rising from the scenic woods of Nova Scotia, where four ordinary paintballers have made an extraordinary difference. 

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