Members of Maximum Velocity, a local paintball team, are trying to make a better name for the sport of paintball. Left to right: (back row) Robbie Saarinen, R-V Palmer, Steve Saarinen; (front row) R-A Mazzola, Travis Nyman. Not pictured: Adam Shaw.
by Jeff Switzer
WOODINVILLE--At 300 feet per second, Robbie and R-A described getting hit by a paintball as "being snapped by a rubber band."
Sponsored by AMS, a sporting goods store in Woodinville, and Valvoline, Maximum Velocity, a team of six paintball enthusiasts who work, play, and go to school in the area, will be traveling to Montana for a 24-team paintball tournament this week.
The members of the two-year-old team range in age from 14 to 27. Robbie Saarinen, 15, his brother, Steve, 17, and Adam Shaw, 14, go to school in Northshore; Travis Nyman, 16, R-A Mazzola, 20, and R-V Palmer, 27, make up the rest.
All share the same goal of improving the name of paintball as a competitive, responsible sport from the perceived stereotype of being played by "gun-crazed warmongers" linked to militia training.
"When we were looking for sponsors, one business owner said he wasn't interested in supporting war games," said Mazzola. "We're out there playing it as a game, a competitive sport. We don't want to hurt anybody or get hurt ourselves."
Robbie Saarinen said that when kids shoot at cars, it makes the rest of them look bad when they just want to play it as a sport. The team says they enjoy the sport because it keeps them in good shape, teaches them teamwork, communication, and strategizing, not because it's violent.
Equipped with walkie-talkies, Mazzola and Robbie Saarinen work as referees at Paintball Playground on Woodinville-Duvall Rd. trying to make the sport as safe and fun as possible by removing reckless or dangerous players and making sure safety comes first.
Mazzola and Saarinen said certified safety equipment is required for players, including goggles and facemasks, and the paintball guns are treated with the utmost care and respect because they are dangerous if mishandled.
At the paintball fields, owners and referees also keep an eye out for militant activity and ban it from the field. "There's always gonna be some jerk that's gonna want to turn you into a Christmas tree," said Mazzola, describing the effect of being splattered with multiple paintballs.
After hitting someone with a paintball during competition, Mazzola is against referring to the hit as a "kill," and prefers "elimination." He also calls paintball guns "markers," not "guns."
Mazzola, along with Robbie and Steve Saarinen, recently played in their first tournament as a team in Federal Way, where they won the sportsmanship award and placed fourth. They have high hopes for the next tourney, as does Robbie and Steve's mother, Dorothy Saarinen, who has agreed to drive the team the 530 miles to Montana for the tournament.
"I think they'll do real well," said Dorothy Saarinen. "They're good students, they're in 4-H, and have really banded together, getting sponsors and practicing every week. They really focus on the sport rather than its violent aspects."
Their goal for this tournament is to earn the sportsmanship title again, and to do as well as, if not better than, fourth.