At 11 years old, Jack Sullivan felt a special thrill when he shot a paintball gun for the first time at a birthday party.
“I just fell in love,” Sullivan said. “I raised my own money to play on a team and we won the world cup my senior year of high school.”
Four years after his world cup title, senior aerospace engineering major Sullivan is president of the Texas Paintball Club, a team that has continued to grow in numbers and placed second overall at nationals this year.
A game of paintball is played on a turf field 200-feet long and 150-feet wide with two teams of five players called “lines”. It centers around capturing the opposing team’s flag and hanging it on their starting gate without getting eliminated — shot with paint — within a five minute limit. Teams can also be penalized if a player continues to play after being eliminated.
The Texas Paintball team started in 2008, but the team took a toll after graduating most of its players by 2010.
Ryan Sutten, now a graduate, joined in 2010 with a mission to grow the team. He took charge early, starting as president of the club. He tabled on campus and cleaned up the team’s online presence. He switched from an old website to a Facebook page and joined several online forums based in Austin to gain exposure in the paintball community. He found players like Sullivan and professional paintballer Nathan Roberts to join his squad.
“I play for AC:Dallas, a pro team that practices out of Austin.” Roberts said, “There are no collegiate laws that say I can’t play for Texas too.”
Roberts has traveled the world playing paintball, including Amsterdam and London. He even plays with professional players from the Texas A&M team.
Besides Sullivan and Roberts, most players who join Texas Paintball have no prior competitive experience.
“I played mostly recreationally before I came to UT,” Sutten said. “That’s how we bring in players. We teach them basic fundamentals and we can make anyone a good player if they are committed to it.”
And it’s worked so far. Texas Paintball received its highest placings at Nationals on April 15-17 this year with the Orange line taking No. 5 overall and the White line taking No. 20 for a combined No. 2 finish.
This fall, the team has participated in two tournaments, taking home the gold in one of them for the first time since 2014. They are currently ranked No. 5 in the nation. Sullivan looks forward to the upcoming semester of tournaments, especially nationals on April 21-23.
“My goal this year was to take two lines to nationals,” Sullivan said. “We are running three lines right now, but by next semester that should be up to four. I’m hoping to take that first place next year. I don’t think a Texas team has ever done that.”