Paintball Resurrection: Master Blasters Traveling Road Show

Back in the day (henceforth BITD; you’ll probably be seeing that a lot) there were some two dozen fifteen player teams that made it their business to travel around the country (and internationally) competing in paintball tournaments.

These were the teams that were first called “pros”.  A well-deserved title, though not one based on receiving a salary to play.  These guys (and gals!) were all on a mission to spread the word about paintball.  Their presence helped make or break national events; their thoughts and ideas inspired paintball companies.  Their dedication and devotion helped to create the next generation of tournament player.  Each and everyone was a true “ambassador” for the sport.

One of those two-dozen teams was the home team from Survival New York (one of the original NSG franchise fields and now named Paintball Sports NY), an operation owned by Jerry Braun, a guy who played in the second-ever paintball game and who’s name, from the mid-80s until the late 90s, was synonymous with tournament paintball.  (Jerry would create the World Cup, move it to Florida and would bring paintball to ESPN in the mid-nineties, among many other things.)

Jerry’s home team was named the Master Blasters.  Captained by Steve Horaz and Kevin Donaldson (the result of a multi-team merger) and field-generalled by Richie ‘RT’ Travis (who has since left us but who’s name still inspires), the Blasters were initially known on the circuit more for their officiating abilities than for their competitive play (no slouches though: the team would go on to prove it with a National Championship in 1989 and would become known for their aggressive play).  Most of the Blasters supported their paintball habit by reffing at Survival.

Which became an interesting asset when things rolled around to getting serious about competitive play.  The Master Blasters, you see, had promised themselves that they would gain a steadfast reputation as straight-up players by earning the trust of their peers – the other traveling teams that they frequently judged at the many national-level events held in and around Survival New York.

They earned that reputation: if you were competing in an event at SNY and the Blasters were reffing, you could count on the fact that who you were, where you came from or who your sponsors were filled up that proverbial hand just as much as wishes did.

(One short personal experience should suffice to illustrate this point.  I was playing in a World Cup at SNY.  Our game was against a team that were known cheaters, while the Blasters and my team had a friendly – but serious – rivalry, being based in essentially the same geographic local and being ranked nationally at pretty much the same level;  we also always seemed to draw each other during prelim play.  Anyway, we would be playing on a field we knew fairly well – as did our opponents – but we didn’t bother to plan out the game play.  “What’s the plan?”  “We’ll just let them cheat themselves right out of the game.”  And we did.  The other team took two three-for-ones within the first fifteen minutes of that game – six guys gone on one side of the field, all because they just couldn’t keep themselves from wiping off a hit.  It was a quick win once that tape side opened up…)

The point is, if you knew what was going on, you KNEW you could trust the Master Blasters to officiate a fair game.  And it didn’t take but a couple of seasons before everyone wanted them to ref their event.  (Not great on the practice schedule though.)

They invented and then perfected the officiating system known as “radio-zone-judging” (using walkie-talkies to communicate and having individual refs assigned to a particular area of a field.  Among many other things, this system let referees check a player from a distance and resulted in many cheats being caught when they thought no one was around).  The way tournaments are reffed today is a legacy of that system.

Turn the clock ahead nearly two decades and, what’s this?  The Master Blasters Traveling Road Show?  What’s that all about?

Well.  Kevin Donaldson, who became captain of the Blasters BITD (who was also responsible for creating one of paintball’s first retail store chains – Action Sports Outfitters – and, along with Jim Anderson, created the ASO Players Cup series of tournaments, a series that was instrumental in the creation of the NPPL) decided that he had to get back in touch with a bunch of his old buddies.

In Kevin’s world, “old buddies” means just about anyone and everyone who ever had anything to do with making this sport what it is today.

Early on, Kevin hooked up with yours truly (more often an opponent BITD than anything else, but also an honorary Master Blaster from time immemorial) and, through the good offices of 68Caliber, made contact with a bunch of the old school crowd.

THAT led to attending Tom Cole’s UWL event in Chicago (Tom is one of those old buddies from BITD btw) which led to two amazing happenings:

First:  the reunion (for those who were able to make it) was an absolute blast! Bob Long, Chuck Hendsch, Tom Cole, Daryl Trent, Renick Miller, Danny Love, Frank Connell, Sal Briguglio, Dan Colby, Jerry Braun (I’d probably save a few words just by saying – go read a “Who’s Who of Paintball”).  There isn’t a name in that bunch that didn’t have an “issue” with someone else in that group (oh, anything from on-field rivalry to business rivalry), but any negativity that might have been in the air (and there really wasn’t any to begin with) simply melted away with the rising of the morning sun.  For me (and for the others, I asked), it was as if someone had turned the clock back twenty years. Smiling faces, tales of derring do (a bit of weepiness for those who are no longer with us) and a genuine sense that we’d all ‘come home’.

Second: the main event was taking place almost half a mile away, but which do you think was more crowded – the bleachers on center court or the netting alongside the UWL field?  I can say with virtually no exaggeration at all that the UWL games featuring the ‘legends’ was a highlight of the event.  Streams of players who’d maybe only ever read about some of these guys in a moldy old copy of APG down at the local paintball store were streaming over in droves.

It was during those times when we were hanging with the new players (most of them in awe of the people that they were talking with and standing next to) when Dan Colby said something unprintable: “—-man!  We have GOT to do this again!”

In all honesty, the initial reaction to that statement was ‘well duh!’.  But later on the evening of that same day, serious discussion was begun.  We all did have to do it again.

The result was the Master Blasters Traveling Road Show, a team made up of the broadest cross-section of industry and tournament players that has ever been assembled in the history of the game;  MBTRS (as it is now known) has top professional players, gun manufacturers, media producers, air system manufacturers, field owners, writers, league owners – you name it, MBTRS has it!

Don’t get me wrong though.  The Master Blasters Traveling Road Show isn’t just about a bunch of old farts getting together and talking you to death with paintball glory stories.  There’s a purpose behind this gathering of the clan.

We all, each and everyone one of us, have a stake in seeing the industry survive and thrive.  If you want to get right down to it, the industry IS these guys.  So we’re all on a mission: to represent in a positive manner, to help build the game up again and to set an example for all those who come along.

MBTRS attended the UWL Chicago event and will be officiating at the Woodsball World Cup in September.  They will also be attending the UWL 2011 series across the country, the 2011 Woodsball World Cup and numerous other tournaments and scenario games. The schedule is open after that, but you can be sure that with so many high-profile players quartered all across the country, your chances of getting to watch the Road Show in action are pretty darned good come the 2011 season.

68Caliber is sponsoring the team, so you can bet we’ll be following the developments.  Check back here soon (and often) for more updates!

Current members (and the team is still growing) is a rogues gallery of paintball history: Kevin Donaldson,Kenneth Hefferle,Kevin Hefferle,Matt Erenzo,,Dave Arnold, Dan Weisel,Robert Rosie”Rose,Dennis”Mooner”Mood
Dana Mennerich,Jerry Braun Stephen Hefferle,Noah Harper,Todd Sullivan,Jason Sickal,Eugene Glouzgal Patrick”Church”Mouro, Bob Gurnsey,Steve Davidson,Chuck Hendsch,Dan Colby,Steve Cusano,Sal Briguglio,Biff Thiele,Tom Ghee,Mike Grubb,Joe West,Rob Navas,Rene Boucher,Josh Silverman,Glenn Palmer,Doug Brown,John Amodea,Andy Van Der Plaats,Gino Postorivo,Bo Davidson,Jim Lively,John Korkowski,Bambi Bullard,Craig Miller,Tom Cole



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