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HotSeat Interview by Bill Mills
WARPIG file photos by Dawn Mills
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WARPIG: Three Rivers Paintball exemplifies what many of us think of as old-school paintball. It's not manicured grass fields with blow-up bunkers, but completely wild terrain. The coin toss was important because the winner got to choose what side of the field they started from, determining what kind of cover they had at their flag station and even whether or not they had to fight their way uphill. Meanwhile mainstream tournament paintball moved to concept fields that were great for photography, video and making sure sponsor's logos were seen by the media, how do you think that changed the feel of tournament paintball?
It got boring- to watch and to play. The games enduring qualities of "Hide N
Seek" in the woods along with "Tag" got lost to rate of fire which doesn't
have the same feel to it. It's just more interesting in the woods - long
WARPIG: The scope of the International Amateur Open tournaments was far more than a single person could organize. In addition to yourself, who were the key people that brought everything together each year?
This new event is designed to be more sustainable while still giving our
attendees some fabulous memories, laughs, and good fun!!
Debra: We just didn't go there. It's not about making money at all costs for me. We have a daughter and I'm a women's advocate. I didn't want her to ever be embarrassed about what her parents did for a living. People don't have to agree with me, or like me or the decisions I've made - but they damn sure better respect the event, and the community we live and work in. That's also what separated us from the other events. Dick's Sporting Goods was a family centered operation. They stayed with us because they trusted we would maintain standards. And we did.
Two thousand and six was the last year for the International Amateur Open. 16 years is an unusually long run for anything in paintball (paintgun, tournament, publication, anything). The decision to bring that era to a close must not have been easy, what were the driving factors?
Debra: It's not possible to have a 16 year run without constantly adapting and changing as the market requires. The industry wanted to bring in their big trucks and they wanted all air fields - thus the move to Butler Fairgrounds. Once again trying to unite our industry and all facets of it - we brought in scenario play. We built a 12 ring circus to meet market demand. When the NPPL and PSP divided the industry - we could no longer support the dragon that had been built to accommodate one large industry. It was no longer a good business decision to remain at the Butler Fairgrounds so we came back to Three Rivers. Then it became apparent that the industry was in such a state of upheaval - it was time to move on. It was getting harder, I was getting older:) and it was exhausting. I was also getting more involved with other events I was producing nationally raising money for women's initiatives like domestic violence and human trafficking. They just seemed a lot more compelling to me and I was ready to move on.
WARPIG: Many of today's players who are new to the sport weren't around for what us old-timers often refer to as its "golden age," so they don't see what we mean when we say tournament paintball declined in the last several years. With the loss of big stand-alone events like the IAO, Mardi Gras Open and Skyball, as well as the shrinking (in terms of number of teams, vendors present and even events per year) of the remaining national level tournaments from the NPPL and PSP, and disappearance or conglomeration of many manufacturers, the "paintball scene" - or traveling party of players, industry reps and media who would see each other once or twice a month in different parts of the country is no longer there.
Following this contraction of paintball, why have you targeted this year as a good time to jump back in, with the Paintball Festival?
Debra: Actually the stars lined up for this. I never expected I'd be back in the industry producing an event. When our daughter took over as Operations Manager of Three Rivers paintball, and really embraced it, that changed everything for me. I wanted her to learn from the best so I said you need to go to a paintball industry conference. In looking around, there wasn't one scheduled at that time. Then I received several phone calls suggesting I should consider stepping back into the industry from people whom I admire and trust.
time however, it's not just our best effort, I'm bringing in the team from the UWL and Mission Masters so I think together we can create something
WARPIG: The Paintball Festival and Business Conference is scheduled for August 5, 6 and 7th of 2011, in Freedom, PA. Not only are you planning to bring back many of the business conference activities that were unique to the IAO, but you're locating the paintball action back at Three Rivers Paintball, with a scenario game, the Ultimate Woodsball League's 10-man woodsball competition and the KT Challenge one on one competition. What will visitors and participants find at the Paintball Festival that they won't see anywhere else?
Hopefully a family friendly environment of Total Immersion! I'm looking forward to the Player Party - the Paintballs Got Talent Show and the Search
for Excellence Awards where we honor an individual or team for community
WARPIG: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and our readers. We hope this is the start of another long run of events that help revitalize the sport we love so much through growth of the industry that supports it. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Debra: Thanks Bill - it was fun to take this trip down memory lane. If our daughter can learn and benefit from the best in the business, if our attendees truly go away with memories to last a lifetime, if we can help bring a divided industry together with a focus on common ground, if we can offer field owners an affordable yearly conference where they can learn how to better run their operations, if we can create a new event that offers a multitude of amenities for ALL attendees - we'll be able to call this Paintball Festival a success. The IAO had it's day, as did many of the paintball companies no longer in business. It's time to move forward - it's a new day!
For more information about the 2011 Paintball Festival, visit www.PaintballFestival.com.
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