In a Florida field, filled with leafy green vegetation and tropical brush, Adam Gardner and his brother, Bill, spread out. Within about five minutes, Adam feels the sting of a hit, right in the middle of his forehead. At first, he is unsure of where the shot came from, but within seconds, he spots a man in a tree who must have been the one who shot him with the paintball.
Even though Adam (KGSB ’89) only lasted for five minutes during his first paintball game in 1987, that first hit was much more than a sting.
When he and Bill planned on spring break that year, they bought some paintball guns, even though they never really played before. It seemed like it would be fun to shoot each other. It turned out to be so much fun that they soon ran out of paintballs, causing them to go to an Orlando paintball supplier. When they replenished their paintball ammunition, the store owner told them about the game in the Florida field.
Hooked, Adam and Bill started playing regularly, and a few years later they founded the All Americans, a paintball team. Today, the All Americans are considered one of the best teams in the professional paintball league, the NXL, and while Bill retired as a player, Adam is still on the roster. But the Gardners did more than found a team; they founded a paintball company, too, and developed a barrel and gun that many consider one of the most elite equipment systems of the game.
When the Gardners first played in that Florida field, they were using guns that dispensed five shots a second. Their company, Smart Parts, founded in 1989, was one of the first to develop an electronic gun, allowing for a more rapid succession of shots. The Gardners’ system allows for 18 shots a second.
At the company’s Loyalhanna, Pa., factory, an octagon-shaped machine feeds skinny metal tubes into what looks like an incubator, where robotic tools bore holes into the tubes, creating a barrel that will force out the little gelatin paintballs, which resemble bath beads, at a speed of about 200 miles per hour. The machine creates the porting on the barrel, a technique the Gardners invented and patented (patent number 5,228,427, in case you wanted to know). The company also produces paintball valves, air tanks, customized jerseys, hats, and chigos, which are protective playing pants. Last year, Smart Parts, which employs 110 people, had sales that topped $20 million in an industry where sales are about $1 billion annually.
Adam is excited about trying to make paintball even more mainstream, working with Penny Marshall on a possible movie deal and Dick Clark Productions on a reality TV show.
While strolling through his factory, Adam proudly picks up a shiny, maroon-colored "marker," or what nonpaintballers would consider a gun. He slides the barrel in, hooking it up to an air pump. Then, he picks up a green-and-yellow paintball, puts it in the marker, resting its butt against his shoulder. A high whine escapes from the barrel as the ball flies out, splattering paint against a wall. While the speed of the gun seems impressive, it is just as impressive to see a business exec, dressed in khakis and a dress shirt, shoot a marker in the middle of a workday.
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