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Paintball wars!
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Since becoming a paintball enthusiast and moving to Covington, Allen Harris has never heard of a serious injury occurring in this particular sport. And that is the absolute truth.

Believe it or not, insurance statistics prove that paintball is one of the safest sports out there - safer than tennis.

"Probably the most (likely) injury that you're going to get out of paintball is a sprained ankle," says Harris, employee of Tru-Shot Paintball and Supplies, Inc., "because you're running around in the woods and might trip over something."

So, why is this particular sport viewed by some as a dangerous activity?

"Most parents think it's advocating the army of war or starting a militia," says Harris. "But it's not that at all. It's a family-oriented game where you can go show off your skills; you can (let) out your aggression but in a fun way - it's the ultimate game."

Harris moved to Covington from Florida over two years ago. His wife, Dian, has owned the store for nearly three years. Harris states that paintball in Newton County has become a very popular sport, and his customers range from 10-year-olds to 60-year-olds.

Typically played outdoors, paintball is a unique sport in which participants use compressed-gas-powered guns called markers to eliminate their opponents by hitting them with spherical gelatin capsules (paintballs). Approximately 200 to 300 paintballs are used per marker.

But unlike Florida and nearby counties in Georgia - where paintball is considered a recreational sport and have county-run fields - paintball is considered a commercial activity in Covington.

"Well, I went down to the recreation department to see if we could put a field in Newton County so we don't have to go over to Rockdale and play," says Harris, "but they said it's a commercial activity. To me, it's not commercial; it's a recreation sport."

After leaving the commission a paintball safety pamphlet - citing that it's safer than golf if you follow the rules - Harris and others continue to lobby for a playing field.

The common misperception is that paintball is a highly dangerous game; however, according to a 2002 survey conducted by American Sports Data, Inc. it has an injury rate of only 0.2 injuries per 1,000 exposures.

Rules and regulations are enforced to ensure the well-being of players. Besides wearing your mask at all times - on and off the playing field - there are several other safety rules participants must follow (see box).

In addition, chronographs, which measure paintball velocity, are used to check the markers before entering the playing field. For safety precautions, most commercial facilities require a lower rate of speed (285 feet per second) than the industry standard (300). In addition, officials check markers during the game to ensure participants are abiding by the rules.

Ty Gardner, a 15-year-old student from Newton High School, has played paintball for three years. In addition to other recreational sports he enjoys - baseball, football and basketball - Gardner favors paintball above anything else.

"It's fun to play," says Gardner. "Just the tactics and running around being able to shoot people in a non-violent (way); overall, it's just a good game."

But like Harris, Gardner wishes there was a regular playing field close by.

"A lot of people around here like to play paintball," admits Gardner.

Ryan Lewis, youth minister of Solid Rock Baptist Church, is hosting "X Games at the Rock" at 9 a.m. on July 28 as a paintball fundraiser for the senior high youth.

"We wanted to try and get away from doing the traditional donut sale or car wash," says Lewis, "and do something that the kids can enjoy and the adults can actually do some work. When I thought of the idea, I asked a lot of people and everybody seemed to like it; I got a lot of good responses."

The 16-team (five per team) double elimination tournament will be held on the two full-size softball fields at the church, which is located on Brown Bridge Road. There will also be one adult volunteer head judge for each playing field to ensure safety measures are met. In addition, the event is for 12 and up and is first come, first serve.

"I talked to a lot of youth and adults alike," says Lewis, "and a lot of people are playing paintball these days. I wanted us to have some fun and have a dual purpose of raising money, as well. Hopefully, it (will) be an event we can continually do year after year and something kids can look forward to doing."

Compared to other competitive sports, paintball is a far less dangerous activity. According to the latest survey by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the highest rate of injury occurs in sports that involve contact and collisions (i.e. football).

"In five years, we want to have our own field so kids don't have to travel outside the county," says Harris. "We would really like to get one, but commercial land is too expensive to put a paintball field in it. To pay $1 million for five acres of land is impossible for a small business like us to do right now."

Harris also contends that the field should be in a location that will limit the cost for consumers to play paintball.

And paintball doesn't care what gender you are. Currently, an increased number of females in Covington and surrounding areas are becoming more interested in the sport.

"Right now, you'll find a lot of females (who) play this sport," says Harris. "The women are enjoying paintball just as much as the men are enjoying it."

There are three basic paintball variations - woodsball, speedball and scenario. According to Harris, woodsball is the most common game in Covington because you can play in your backyard.

Each game typically involves two teams - three-man, five-man or seven-man squads - seeking to eliminate all of the opposing players or to complete a specific task, such as capturing the flag. Non-professional games can last from five minutes to 30 minutes depending on a number of factors.

However, this is the time of the year when professionals play paintball.

This highly competitive extreme sport is a multi-billion dollar industry enjoyed by over 12 million people around the world. The Sporting Goods Manufacturer's Association estimates that approximately 10 million people play annually in the United States alone. In fact, each year a paintball championship is held in Orlando, Fla.

There are approximately 5,500 competitive teams that compete in more than 225 league or series' events every year across the country, with levels of difficulty ranging from rookie to pro. Six of these national events comprise the largest and most famous event series in the world, the Paintball Sports Promotions (PSP).

PSP, a pioneer regarding style of play (i.e. Xball format), is powered by a team known as the largest and most successful manufacturers and distributors in the business.

But paintball isn't just growing among the professional ranks.

The National College Paintball Association (NCPA), which is a non-profit organization, represents over 250 schools nationally. Since 2000, there has been an average increase of 65 percent each year regarding the number of collegiate paintball teams.

Harris' son, 15-year-old Allen Harris Jr., has been playing paintball for five years now. Harris Jr. is an Alcovy High School student and enjoys playing for a number of reasons.

"To me, it's just the adrenaline rush that you get out of it," says Harris Jr., "and I like the competitiveness of paintball."

For these reasons and many more, it's enough for his father to believe that paintball is going to be the No. 1 sport within the next 10 years.