Ready, Aim, Fire!
By Derek Smith
Crouching low to the ground, your back pressed against a tree, the only thing you hear is the sound of your own breath, steaming up the inside of your face mask. You hold your rifle close and realize you have to make a move. Slowly you stand up, adrenaline rushing, sweat beading down your face. You take a step away from the tree, then another. You decide to bolt for the wooden bunker just a few yards away. Before you know it, you’re running. You think you can make it, until—splat! You stop in your tracks and look down. A splatter of paint covers the front of your shirt and you realize you’ve been hit.
Being a Kid Again
“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” says Joe Stayback, who would know: he has lived, and re-lived, similar scenarios countless times over in his 30 years as a paintball enthusiast.
Stayback is general manager of Sherwood Paintball, one of the top five paintball venues in the US, according to pbnation.com. He founded the operation with his father in 1990 on 74 wooded acres just north of La Porte. Open year-round, Sherwood Paintball boasts 11 playing fields ranging in size from one to five acres. But the best part: each is inspired by the tale of Robin Hood, who famously stole from the rich and gave to the poor against a medieval backdrop of castles, kings and outlaws.
The tale has been one of Stayback’s favorites since childhood, and when he talks about his sport, you can see his inner child come out.
“It’s like being a kid again,” he says, cracking a wide smile. “You’re out there running in the woods with your friends.”
Storming the Castle
The adventure starts when you drive through the main entrance, which is flanked by two castellated watchtowers. The timbered rec area where groups gather to eat or talk strategy resembles a medieval banquet hall, while the smaller playing fields are arranged to resemble villages dotted with wooden shelters and bunkers. The centerpiece of Sherwood Paintball, however, is the City of Nottingham, which features a commanding 3-story castle. At dusk, the castle is lit with torches for night games.
Stayback built all of the structures using railroad ties and is constantly adding to the castles, village houses and bunkers on the playing fields. He credits Walt Disney for inspiring him to go the extra mile in terms of his showmanship.
“Disney was one of my idols. He built the experience. He viewed people as guests not customers,” he says.
Sherwood Paintball welcomes groups for birthdays, team-building company outings, family reunions, bachelor parties, or friends just looking to have a good time. Groups must have a minimum of 10 participants and must make reservations at least two weeks in advance.
Stayback and Kathy Love, who took over as owner after Stayback’s father passed away last year, make safety a priority. They supply all of the equipment, including goggles and other protective gear, and they have referees monitoring each game. All players must be at least 10 years old to participate.
For more information including special group rates, visit www.sherwoodpaintball.com.
Sherwood Paintball, Inc.
3497 N US 35
La Porte, IN
Derek Smith is a writer, editor and graduate student studying digital media at Valparaiso University. A long-time resident of the Beach Coast, he grew up in Valparaiso and currently lives in Michigan City.