By all accounts, paintball has exploded into one of the most popular competitive sports and recreational pursuits in this nation. In fact, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association estimates 10 million people routinely play the war game individually or on organized teams and leagues. Players compete to eliminate opponents by zapping them relentlessly with capsules of water-soluble dye propelled from a paintball gun.
When used as a source of recreational amusement under controlled and safe settings, paintball provides good but unclean fun. Its adherents also argue it provides lessons in eye-hand coordination, focus, agility and leadership skills.
When used, however, as a source of hooliganism, paintball can produce peril. That scenario played out last week when Youngstown police arrested three 16-year-old boys on the South Side who had been indiscriminately shooting bright-orange paintballs at passing vehicles along Interstate 680 near the Midlothian Boulevard interchange.
A city police officer said he pulled to the side of the freeway about 4 p.m. Aug. 7 and heard paintballs whizzing by his cruiser from a wooded area. He also noticed the concrete median was covered in orange paint splatters. The three amateur sharpshooters were caught red-handed and quickly surrendered — but not without taking a toll on several unsuspecting drivers.
One victim said he had two children, age 6 and 4, in his car when it was hit twice, which caused him to panic. Fortunately, that panic did not translate into an accident with potentially horrific outcomes.
Clearly paintball — particularly when played in uncontrolled public spaces — is not child’s play. Just ask Daniel Rosenthal of Montreal, who was 12 when he was struck directly in the right eye with a high-flying projectile. The hit caused permanent severe damage, and Rosenthal risks losing sight in that eye. Or ask Mark Contois of Northern California, whose wife was killed when a detached cylinder from a paintball gun struck her in the head during a game.
Fortunately, no one in the I-680 shootout was seriously injured. That streak of luck, however, should not lessen the severity of punishment for the three teens charged with vandalism and discharging a firearm within city limits.
In addition to the harshest penalties available, Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick should also put the boys’ prowess for paint to productive use. As part of their sentence, order the boys to serve several weeks as volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, Paint Youngstown or other community groups in need of volunteers to neatly splash fresh color on paint-chipped homes across the city. Or perhaps the judge can follow the lead of the honorable Michael Cicconetti, Painesville Municipal Court judge. Several years back, he sentenced two young men who had desecrated a woman’s home with paintballs to spray their own property with paintballs and then remove it completely under the glaring and embarrassing focus of news cameras.
To their credit at least, our three sorry shooters on I-680 recognize the errors of their way. They simply were “bored and stupid,” they readily admitted. What better way then to banish that boredom and shed that stupidity than by swapping paintguns with paintbrushes? Not only would such service teach the three a valuable lesson, it also would add fresh coats of pride to the city’s landscape.