On an unusually warm day last fall, Frank Casto fired paintballs at a target latched onto a tall tree near his shop. The dye-filled capsules zoomed through the humid air. As they ricocheted off the target, the paintballs splattered and burst into a cloud of colors.
Casto owns and operates J&J Sporting Goods Paintball Park in Washington County. Located on 100 acres of land, which also includes his and his parents’ home, the paintball park is the largest of its kind in Southeast Ohio. He has seen many changes in the sport throughout his nearly 30 years in the paintball industry.
One is that paintball guns are now called markers. A bigger change is that the sport is enjoyed by a wider variety of people. When Casto opened J&J Sporting Goods Paintball Park in 1995, he says the sport’s participants were primarily wealthy individuals. But, as paintball hit the mainstream in the mid-2000s, costs went down and participation in the sport went up. According to the Outdoor Foundation, 5.5 million participants played paintball in 2007. Since that peak, participation has dropped some.
Casto has a few ideas on why numbers are down. Some news stories, he believes, put paintball in a negative light, highlighting them as an alternative to gun violence by showing people using paintball guns to terrorize neighborhoods and communities. But the sport is “not about violence or hatred,” Casto says. “[Paintball] is not like Call of Duty.”
There is, however, an inherent risk involved, as with any time projectiles are hurled through the air. Casto argues that paintball is safe for all intents and purposes.
According to the American Sports Data, the paintball industry reports the fewest injuries with 0.2 injuries per 1,000 participants. That makes it safer than baseball, cheerleading, racquetball and tennis.
Some paintball statistics are on the upswing. Sales of paintball equipment have increased from $132 million in 2014 to $169 million in 2017, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. One research study reports that professional paintball players, those who travel and play in leagues, can spend up to $50,000 a year.
J&J Sporting Goods Paintball Park has a solid pack of regulars who enjoy the sport. For instance, 16-year-old AJ spends his weekends immersed in paintball, and he has been doing so since he was 12. He enjoys going outside and doing something that he cannot do on a video game screen.
In Marietta, paintball continues to fire interest.