By Abby Zimmer
The Saint Mary’s University tournament paintball team was the first college team to hold a tournament on a college campus in the fall of 2005, and now they are off to the National Tournament for the fifth consecutive year with a nearly brand new team.
The students who started the club sport five years ago have all graduated, leaving the SMU Kidz with four freshmen, only one with experience, two sophomores and one junior.
“Now it’s kind of a new program,” said junior Caleb Bethke, the club’s president. “The majority of our team is underclassmen.”
Right now, freshman Mike Bonk and sophomore Ryan Sondalle, both captains, are working with the team to teach them how to play together.
“In the sport of paintball,” said Bethke, “knowing your teammates and communication are key.”
The National Tournament this year is taking place in Lakeland, Fla., on April 18-20 at the Central Florida Paintball Park. There are two college divisions at the tournament: Class A and Class AA. The SMU Kidz are part of Class AA, in which any college team can play. Just because a school is ranked Division I in its varsity athletics, they are not automatically placed in Class A. Class A has a conference structure that decides which teams may play at the beginning of the year according to bids and the previous year’s events.
“It’s a very fun weekend,” said Bethke. “Not too many college sports get to say [they’ve] got [Division I] schools and smaller schools all playing together.”
Bethke also said that the paintball team is working with Chris Kendall and Jason Richter to get a permanent field set up. Setting up a field on campus has been the team’s goal, most likely on Lower Joe’s Field (near the bridge on Highway 14), but this past summer it was determined that the state regulates the use of this property.
Now the SMU Kidz are focusing on setting up a field with tournament-style inflatable bunkers at the local paintball field, Back 80 Paintball Sports, Inc.
“Not only are we pooling SMU’s resources, but we’re also doing a partnership with WSU, trying to get them involved as well,” said Bethke. “WSU is our partner in crime you could say. We practice with them all the time [and] scrimmage against them.”
Having the bunkers readily available would allow SMU Kidz and WSU to practice tournament strategy, to bring college tournaments back to the Winona area, and even to allow high school tournaments.
“That’s a big push for us to generate further interest in the club and the university,” said Bethke.
Back 80 is where the SMU Kidz have played ever since the team began five years ago, and the field actually sponsors them, allowing SMU Kidz to play there without paying for green fees in exchange for the SMU Kidz refereeing open play (when the field is open to the general public).
Because of Winona’s centralized location in the Midwest North Division, the director of the division has expressed interest in playing a tournament here if they can get a field set up.
“We have teams that come from Minnesota, … Michigan, Iowa and Illinois, so they really look for locations that are situated in the center to get everyone’s driving time about equal,” said Bethke.
The team’s goal is to have the field completed by next year.
Overall, the outlook of the team seems positive, said Bethke. “Not only do we have players who are experienced and getting better, but they are going to be around for the next few years. It will only get better year-to-year.”
The Office of Admission told Bethke that approximately 23 incoming freshman have also expressed interest in the club, with at least five students having previous experience. Furthermore, a couple of transfer students who are interested in playing have contacted Bethke.
Students interested in more information about the club can contact Bethke at email@example.com or see the SMU Kidz website at http://www2.smumn.edu/studorg/~paintball.