The Comeback Kids

The Drexel Paintball team is back and ready for action after a four-year hiatus.
The Drexel Paintball team is back and ready for action after a four-year hiatus.

The Drexel Paintball team is in the midst of a comeback.

Twenty years ago, the Drexel Paintball team, a club sport at the University, was founded as one of the earliest college paintball clubs in the country. In fact, Drexel’s club was a founding member of the National Collegiate Paintball Association (NCPA), which governs college paintball.

In 2010, Drexel’s team had an amazing season, and won the NCPA Championship and was even featured on “Fox College Sports.” But shortly afterward, there were issues, namely administrative ones and, as one can expect, members slowly started graduating.

Last January, the team started the second chapter of its two-decade history. The team gained re-recognition, and played every event in the regular season, earning several podium finishes and a place in the final eight of 50 teams who participated in the college championship tournament. This year, the goal was to gain more players and move up in the ranks in the Northeast Intercollegiate Conference (NEIC) of the NPCA to further solidify the team’s comeback story.

“Paintball is definitely one of the most intense sports you can play,” said Anthony Varenas, the club’s president and an undergrad studying psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s loud, it’s dirty (we’ve played in the snow, mud and even torrential rainfall), there’s a lot of yelling across the field, and plays happen during split-second windows of opportunity.”

The best way to describe the sport, he said, is like an intense combination of dodgeball and capture the flag — but not the elementary school, gym-class versions. And, the team members are not “creeping around out in the woods in camouflage,” Varenas says — Drexel’s team is not to be confused with the more widely-known type of paintball, woodsball, which is played in a wooded outdoor space.

Instead, the team plays speedball, which means the games take place on a netted 50-yard field, with inflatable air bunkers placed in a specific layout that’s mirrored on both sides. Each team plays five players who start on opposite sides of the field and then sprint, dive and take cover to eliminate opposing players by hitting them with a paintball, a gelatin capsule filled with water- or oil-based paint. The goal is to capture the flag at the center of the field and hang it at the opposing team’s start box.

Oh, and one more thing.

“As much as competitive paintball is about eliminating the other team and hanging the flag, there is also a fashion element to the game,” said head coach Michael Zapantis, who played on the 2010 Championship team and graduated that year. “Everyone tries to be unique and have their own style when it comes down to wearing headgear, matching or non-matching equipment colors, jersey or pant designs and cleats. Players will go great lengths to stand out, on and off the field.”

The team’s flashy uniforms are also accompanied by a paintball marker (or gun) setup, pods of paintballs for reloading, and, most importantly, a mask and goggles. The players must take measures to protect themselves from paintballs, which can travel up to 300 feet per second.

“A person is not even allowed on the field without a mask,” said Varenas. “Safety is taken very seriously and enforced by numerous referees on the field whose responsibility is to ensure players are safe and the games are fairly played.”

Fortunately, interested students don’t need to have the equipment or skillset to join, said team captain Luigi Cervantes, an undergraduate student in the LeBow College of Business.

“We want players who can be committed to attending practices and team workouts to improve and play tournaments,” Cervantes said.

Practices are on Sundays, at the Playground Paintball Park in Mantua, N.J., Drexel’s home field. The team runs drills on shooting and target obstacle courses, and even plays against other local teams or schools, including Temple University, Rowan University, Rutgers University and Penn State University.

Currently, the team plays in Class AA of the NEIC, playing against other schools in a bracketed tournament format. They hope to move on to Class A next season, which promotes a higher level of play and the opportunity to play more competitive schools in a faster-paced format. To get there, though, the team will need more funds and more players, for substitutions.

As one of the splashiest and colorful club sports programs on campus, Drexel Paintball is also one of the most familial.

Last season, for the 2014 National Collegiate Championships in Florida, the team decided to drive a rented RV down the East Coast, since it was cheaper than airfare and included sleeping arrangements.

“Everyone was digging our RV when we rolled up to the field,” said Orlando Lam, a 2014 graduate and one of three alumni who coaches the team.

Several of the players also play on a local team with alumni when the college season finishes in April (college paintball season runs from September to April). Zapantis and Orlando Lam coach the team with Jon Cuccinello, also a 2014 grad.

“There is a camaraderie involved in the team,” Zapantis said. “We try to make sure everyone is having fun.”

For anyone interested in joining or learning more about the team, contact Anthony Varenas at