Robert Schroeder : click for home page
freelance journalist
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Paintball Wizard
A dispatch from the front lines of one of the most popular war games around.

The Washington Post Magazine
July 7, 2002

Dave Shollenberger, an avuncular information technology consultant, is a nonviolent man. The word "kill" makes him uncomfortable, even when he's rushing the enemy with a blazing gun in his hands. He's a deadeye shot, and the scurrying bodies before him are sure goners. But he's not killing anyone. He's bunkering them, the paintball term for deleting the competition before the competition deletes you. Even say the word "bunker," and Shollenberger smiles.

Guns have always been a part of his life, but they've never been about killing. He honed his aim as a high school rifle team member. He practiced shooting with his sons at a range. He did a stint in the Navy as a sonar technician--hardly a coldhearted sniper. Shollenberger, a 57-year-old churchgoing volunteer with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, doesn't even hunt.

He is competitive, though. Dedicated, too: He plays paintball once a week, all year round. A recent Saturday found him on the "speedball" field at AG Paintball Games in Leesburg. Here it's basically a boyish cops and robbers shootout, but with guns costing up to $1,500, air-powered ammo, paint-filled plastic pellets and protective eyewear.

Knees bent, upper body hunched intently forward, Shollenberger grips his gun and prepares to dash knightlike into the mock battle. The referee starts the match, yelling "go, go, go, go!" Moments later, Shollenberger and his battalion are fanned out across the sun-baked field. The incoming fire is fierce as he crouches behind a giant spool, then makes a dash for another piece of cover, and then another. He bides his time. In the heat of the skirmish, the enemy loses track of the one adversary it shouldn't lose track of.

"Fifty seconds left!" the referee shouts. Shollenberger springs from his hiding place and makes a "Braveheart" charge toward his unsuspecting enemies. With a pop and a pop, he bunkers two men, telltale splotches on their sides. Off the field they go. Shollenberger's black sweat shirt and trousers have ended the day as they began it, virtually paint-free. He has not looked happier--or more alive--all day.

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