7/8/2008 12:30:00 PM Rez-style paintball - tournaments fund community needs
Photo by S.J. Wilson/NHO
A combatant fires from behind a paint-splattered stack of tires. A group called Central 31, comprised of youth members from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, get together for paintball tournaments to raise money for cancer survivors.
Photo by S.J. Wilson/NHO Tyler Yazzie founded Central 31 to promote positive activities for youth in their communities.
BIRDSPRINGS, Ariz. - Tyler Yazzie stands in front of a 20-team bracket schedule with a microphone slung loosely in one hand, surveying what the untrained eye might confuse as a modern work of performance art. Towers of tires, wrapped in plastic wrap, splattered with rainbow-hued paint jut out of the hot reservation sands. Raising the microphone, Yazzie marks five seconds - and gives the command that triggers two five-man teams intent on gunning down the other.
It is 5 p.m. and hot - participants, referees, Yazzie and his girlfriend, Dazhoni James, have been standing in the sun since early morning, and there are quite a few matches to go before the trophies are handed out - along with the grand prize of $1,000 to the last team standing.
Yazzie is the founder of Central 31 - a paint gun organization designed not only to give area youth an outlet but to also help the needy in the community.
"Central 31 is made up of people from this area," Yazzie explains.
"We started three years ago. We wanted to form a little organization where we could do fundraising to benefit people who need help.
"We've helped several people who had cancer," Yazzie continues. "We've helped them with lodging, food - different areas where they needed assistance. We have done other fundraising as well, such as concession stands. We are raising fund for the Hope Cancer Resource Center with this tournament."
Teams have come from three states across the reservation - from communities including Chinle, Kirtland N.M., Ft. Defiance, Dennehotso, Dilkon, Leupp, St. George, Utah and Flagstaff.
"We are supporting this new program run by Brenda Yazzie out of Winslow. She's helping cancer victims in areas like emotional support, money for gas, firewood, and clothing - anywhere she can help out. She is trying to get grants and is working with Lance Armstrong's organization, 'Live Strong,'" Yazzie says.
But Yazzie also recognizes the benefits paintball brings to the youth of the area.
"This sport takes physical strength and training," Yazzie says. "You have to keep in shape. It builds team leadership and sportsmanship skills. It's an expensive sport, and some of these players have been participating for years - it takes real dedication."
Silvantis Nelson is on the field as a referee - but he is also involved in his own organization out of Dilkon. He is the father of four and uncle to many, and he is also dedicated to finding ways to keep kids in Leupp and Dilkon off the streets and away from drugs and alcohol. Nelson lives outside of Leupp, towards Flagstaff, but he has been generous with his time and his vehicle, despite rising gas prices.
"We've been raising money too, to help people in the community. We've also had fundraisers like Bingos," Nelson explains. "This sport gives our kids something to do, and gives them the opportunity to help others. This is where I've been putting my energy."
Members of Halo - a paintball team from Kirtland - are intent on watching the final matches leading up to the final four. The young men know that they will face one more team - probably Split Splat out of Dilkon. The team is comprised of Kevan Howard, Troy Dan, Justin "J.J." John, Torri Hogue and Chris Raymond. Jay Henderson, another team member, is absent - he is standing as best man elsewhere.
The team has already competed nationally and done well - they are looking forward to their third XPSL (Extreme Paintball Sports League) tournament, which will take place in San Jose in August.
Raymond acknowledges that this is indeed an expensive sport, and expresses the team's gratitude for the support of Glen Vavara, their sponsor. Vavara owns an indoor facility in Farmington, and has been very generous in his support of Halo.
"Every tournament is different," Raymond says as his team members discuss the team bracket.
"We've won in El Paso and Albuquerque, Dan adds. "As for reservation tournaments, we haven't lost one yet. We did pretty good in Vegas -we came in number 16 out of 42 teams - Glen helped us out with the entry fee and our paint, and we all shared a hotel room."
The team laughs easily together.
"This sport teaches you not to get mad," Dan said.
Dazhoni James credits Yazzie with founding Central 31, but admits she supports him in every stage of the work at hand.
"I have played the sport, but I'm very intimidated by the sting of a paintball," James admits. "But it is a great stress release and depending on the mood, I do get out there."
James recognizes that some people criticize the sport, mistaking it for violence, but she sees it as something positive.
"These kids are bringing positive changes in our community, and that's why we're here, too," James explains. "There are a lot of challenges facing today's youth, and some of them are hard to figure out. But here, kids have something to do with their free time - and it does take commitment."
She agrees that putting on a tournament is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of fundraising, but she and Yazzie do not concern themselves with that fact.
"It's not about how much it costs to host a tournament, it's about the good that we can do for our community," James said. "We've had fundraisers, and have raised $1,000 to give to our recipient."
That, she says, feels good for everyone involved.
At about eight o'clock, the event is finally coming to a close as finalists fight their final battles.
Who Fak of Chinle takes fourth place; Native Empire of Dennehotso takes third - and finally second place contender Split Splat of Dilkon falls beneath Halo - which triumphantly takes first place.
As a dust storm approaches, Yazzie takes the time to thank everyone who came out for a long day of an extreme sport-and the refs "for taking all those hits."
"The money is going to cancer survivors," he said.