Everyone has their own comfort zone. That place where they can relax, be themselves, and have fun no matter what. It is pure Zen, meditation, and rejuvenation. But my place of peace is a little...unusual - it’s the paintball field. No, I’m not one of those guys who gets all dressed up in camo and plays in the woods. My world of paintball revolves around a flat, open field with air-inflated bunkers, where the games are five vs five and the rate of fire is 12.5 balls per second. Crazy, right? And it’s aggressive, fast, loud, and incredibly addicting. I played competitively for about eight years and made so many great friends and memories. I’m not playing tournaments anymore, but I’m still having a blast with all those buddies on the occasional Sunday. It’s a part of my life that I’m truly thankful for and because of that, I do everything I can to give back to my old teams, friends, host fields, and the game itself.
Tremendous majorities of people don’t understand what makes paintball such a great sport. Most just think of it as somewhat barbaric and a way to physically exemplify shooting-based video games. Well, I won’t lie and say that there isn’t something exciting about shooting a target. But that’s just it - to me, I’m simply marking my opponent, covering him in paint, and removing him from the field of play. There’s no malice, undue aggression, or menace in it at all. Paintball is one of the top 5 safest sports in the world, even with all of those damn welts. It is also a team sport on nearly every level. It’s a game that teaches leadership, self-confidence, and communication. The best part is that you don’t have to be an incredibly gifted, physical athlete to be dominant in the game. Gun skills and field vision are the abilities that allow any and all people to participate in the game. I tried playing football, baseball, and soccer growing up. None of those worked for me. I was never big enough, never fast enough, and never strong enough. Paintball was the first, and still is, the only sport that I’m actually good at because I didn’t have to excel at one of those traits. I was respected because I had solid gun skills and was one of the smarter players on the field.
Beyond the physical field of play is where paintball really cashed in for me. Everyone who knows me outside of the field knows that I’m a quiet guy. Put me on a paintball field though and I don’t shut up. On top of that, I really gained a level of self-confidence that was missing for a long time. Those were huge developments for me as one of those kids in middle and some of high school. Paintball is full of so many different kinds of people, and no one gives a crap. Unlike other mainstream sports where being an athlete makes you cool or popular, paintball is the game that brings everyone together, regardless of anything. The only thing that really separates players is experience. And excluding the typical assholes that exist in any game, players are usually willing to help others. It’s all what makes paintball a family sport. I say that because there are field, state, regional, and national tournaments, and everyone recognizes everyone at every level. I’ve competed in regional and state tournaments and there are always people I can walk up to, share a hug with, and ask how life has been the past few months. Paintballers are a tight-knit group and we all celebrate seeing someone come back to the game after a hiatus. It’s an extended brotherhood of loud, obnoxious, and boisterous people that I truly cherish. It’s because of all this, that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to leave this sport.
Before I close out this memoir to my favorite sport, I’d like to offer a huge thanks to Mario Maresco, the field owner and operator of Nitro Paintball. Mario is a tremendous guy whose sole purpose of business is to show people a good time. I have never met a field owner who works harder, or cares more, than him. Nitro is a top-notch establishment and Mario is the driving force behind that. He is constantly asking people what more they want from the field: better walkways, a paved ramp for rolling gear bags, dedicated pits with TVs for tournaments, covered staging areas, immaculately maintained fields and bunkers, and consistently updated field layouts for the tournament players. Those are inputs that he’s made happen just in the past few years. The man bleeds for the sport and the players. Nitro may be the ultimate hub for Georgia college-based paintball teams. The groups that practice there consistently dominate in tournaments. He is incredibly accommodating and willing to help make your experience worthwhile and fun.
Mario has also created an amazing family culture at Nitro. A family man himself, it’s all hands on deck with his establishment. His wife helps run the counter while he’s out making the field perfect, and his son and daughter chime in occasionally when they’re not pursuing their careers. Many players help run tournaments or officiate for him as well, because we all appreciate and want to give back to the man that has given us such an incredible venue. Every single person who plays at Nitro can call it home, myself included. Despite what anyone else might say, there’s no better field experience in Georgia. Maybe even the whole Southeast.
Beyond busting his ass for his customers, Mario is an incredibly giving person with top-notch character. He’s become a tremendous influence in my life and I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done for me as a paintball player and as a person. I will always be thankful for his outstanding advice, listening ear, and dedication to his customers and the game itself. Many a person has been bettered by his influence, and I know I’m not alone in my deep appreciation for the man.
Mario, you’re the best.