Paintballers go to war in Tumwater corn maze

Battle scars include yellow splotches and bruised thighs

ahobbs@theolympian.comDecember 30, 2013 

Morning fog lingered over the Rutledge Corn Maze as nearly 70 paintball players prepared to enter the Legion of Boom.

The paintballers meandered through the Seahawks-inspired maze on Tumwater’s outskirts, surrounded by brittle corn stalks as high as an elephant’s eye. The more experienced players dressed in camouflage and packed high-powered guns that fired almost a dozen paint-filled spheres per second.

In the first game of Saturday’s football-themed paintball event, teams competed to retrieve a coin in the maze. Some players who exited the corn were covered with yellow splotches from the pop-pop-pop of rapid enemy fire. One teen quit early after he was hit in the back of both thighs. He said it felt like getting drilled with high-speed golf balls.

Dane Yates, 21, came down from Poulsbo with his customized Tippman X7 Phenom — a paintball gun that resembles an M16, complete with a barrel that will curve paintballs around corners. Yates makes an effort to play a few times a month, and he said he prefers settings that involve teamwork to complete “missions.”

“It’s a great de-stressor. You can go out and paint the faces of the people you don’t like from work,” he said, laughing. “Ideally, it’d be nice to play every weekend.”

Elma Paintball sponsored the annual battle at the Rutledge Corn Maze. John Heater, a former pro paintballer, has also hosted weekend paintball competitions at his Elma farm for 22 years. The business rents paintball guns and gear on site, and always attracts new players, both male and female. Participants often include local military or law enforcement personnel looking for a tactical game to play.

Along with Saturday’s corn maze game, another popular event is an annual D-Day re-enactment in June, where participants storm a version of Normandy Beach and find shelter in trenches.

Matt Lawrence of Tenino waited outside the corn maze Saturday for his four sons to finish the first event. Lawrence played on the professional paintball circuit with Heater more than a decade ago. Their team, N-Control, consistently won state championships along with prize purses as large as $20,000.

To make money at paintball, you need to win. Lawrence said his team would film opponents to get a leg up on the competition. The team dominated the Northwest scene and even competed against top-flight players from around the world, including the Russian national team.

“We’d go and rock everybody’s world,” said Lawrence, who worked as a plumber for his day job. “I’m a game hunter, and paintball filled that sportsman’s gap.”

Heater said he hasn’t played a paintball game in nearly six years. He once owned a paintball pro shop in west Olympia for about 10 years. Nowadays, he focuses on organizing events and coaching up-and-coming players to keep the sport going.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he said, recalling his days with Lawrence and N-Control. “It would take some old dogs like Matt to get me back in.”

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Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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