By Jessica Hoefer for TCAJOB
James Cavanah always dresses appropriately for Monday morning staff meetings. He makes sure his suit and tie are clean and pressed, he brushes his hair and he gets to work on time. But sometimes his look garners unwanted attention. On one particular morning, he could feel his co-workers at Pacific Crest Planning staring at his face, wondering why he was sporting a black eye.
“It was my first time back playing hockey after several years, and I got a stick to the eye and got a shiner,” he said.
As the vice president of marketing and media at the financial investment firm, Cavanah doesn’t work with many clients face-to-face. Luckily, on the rare occasions he does meet with customers in person, they understand he may have war wounds that extend beyond hockey.
Cavanah is an avid paintball enthusiast who has played since he was 15 years old. After high school he set aside his passion for paintball bunkers to devour books. Once he established a career with a consistent income and schedule, he found himself back on the paintball field, waiting for the right moment to take out an opponent in combat play.
“I’d been playing for three years and I got a call to play in a league,” says Cavanah, who was contacted by the Tri-Cities’ regional manager and owner of the Red Dot Paintball league, Tim Osborn. “I said ‘I don’t have the time to play in a league but I can coach.’”
Less competitive leagues, such as the Bear Clan that Cavanah currently plays on, allow him the opportunity to participate in paintball without the physical commitment that comes with rigorous practices and a season of games leading up to a regional tournament.
“This is not just regular paintball. You have woods-ball and you have speedball. Speedball is faster paced with blowup bunkers. What the National Paintball League did is mix both of those together,” said Cavanah.
Cavanah coaches the Washington Reds, a team made up of about seven players. During games, four players are on the field at any given time. Some specialize in defense while others are more suited for offense. The object is to get a flag past a line on the field within a certain length of time. Match play can last up to an hour and a half and it takes more than physical endurance to win the game.
“It’s speed chess,” Cavanah said. “You can do a quick start where you rush your players out on offense; if I know someone is in a certain bunker I’ll yell it out; and if I know how many people they have [on the field] I’ll call out a code. There are a lot of things testing your brain.”
Players are armed with semi-automatic paintball guns that can shoot more than a dozen paint-infused balls a second. A direct hit will take a player out until a new round begins. Cavanah says the impact of a paintball hitting you in combat play is equivalent to being stung by a bee. Along with a jersey, players are armed with paintball pants and facemask help minimize the sensation.
The Washington Reds is one of 10 teams established in the Tri-Cities and Reno that play competitively. The mantra is ‘play locally, win big’ as teams move on from their hometown to compete in a regional tournament. In his first year as coach, Cavanah’s team won locally, but lost in the battle against the Nevada Mustangs.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Cavanah. “And I’m all for helping grow the sport in the Tri-Cities.”
While paintballing hit a lull when the economy suffered, Cavanah has watched participation make a comeback attracting interest from all walks of life. Unlike many sport leagues, paintball is open to all ages and men and women can play on the same team. Red Dot Paintball players range from 16 to 40 years old, said Cavanah. Two members on the Washington Reds are in high school—one even drives from Yakima to attend practices and games. Cavanah also coaches players that work in construction, lawn care or for contractors that do work on the Hanford nuclear reservation.
There is an initial investment to purchase gear and get involved in the sport. Used guns, said Cavanah, can cost about $200. For someone more serious about the sport, a good first gun and gear can range from $400-$600. After that, Cavanah said, it’s just the cost of paintballs and playtime.
Red Dot Paintball teams play at the Horn Rapids ORV park, which has fields that cater to new and avid players complete with bunkers, barrels, castles, a speed course and even laser tag as a non-impact alternative. For people interested in watching rather than participating, admission is $5 and $10 for seating on the field in a netted VIP area where masks are required.
As the interest continues to grow, Cavanah anticipates regional play to expand to include teams from California, Oregon and Texas.
In February or March, the local coaches will get together to draft players following local tryouts where paintball enthusiasts are ranked on speed, communication, shooting and overall ability. Coaches take turns drafting so that teams are balanced with expert and novice players.
While Cavanah would like to coach again, he has even considered turning in his coaching gear for combat gear in 2013.
“We’ll see,” he said, knowing that it might increase the number of war wounds he acquires.
His latest injury turned heads as he stumbled into work after Thanksgiving break with a broken toe acquired during soccer.
“I do stuff like this to keep myself excited and feeling that rush,” he said. “If I took myself too seriously every day, I don’t think I’d know who I was. Work hard, play harder.”