It’s a Tuesday afternoon in March, and Eric Prum (Col ’08) hasn’t slept for three days. He didn’t expect his professional paintball team to win the weekend tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the same stadium where the Super Bowl was held a month earlier.
After extending his trip an extra day for the final match-up, Prum took a celebratory limo ride in town, rescheduled his flight, got bounced around the country on different red-eyes and eventually landed at Dulles International Airport. He drove straight to Grounds with five hours to cram before his 9 a.m. exam.
“I’m running on fumes,” Prum says.
It’s a typical start to the week for the 21-year-old politics major, who packs his courses into three days mid-week so he can fly to the West Coast for weekend practices with the Los Angeles Infamous.
Prum began playing professional paintball—where two teams play capture-the-flag by shooting at each other on a battlefield of inflated bunkers—his second year at UVA After graduating, he plans to move to San Diego to work for KEE Action Sports, one of his team’s sponsors.
While other graduates worry about navigating the corporate ladder, Prum will be diving behind inflatable canvas bunkers to dodge plastic paintballs that fly at 200 mph.
Prum, who grew up in Charlottesville, started playing the sport recreationally in middle school with friends in their backyards or the woods. He took a job at Rudy’s Paintball, a store where he devoured the niche magazines and got access to the best equipment. After getting “concussioned-out” of lacrosse in high school, Prum decided to focus on paintball and quit the regional tournaments for a national amateur team.
Most paintball athletes live in warmer climates where the franchises are based, but family ties and in-state tuition meant UVA always topped his list of schools.
“It’s been a weird college career. It was a really great and fulfilling experience, but a totally different one than other UVA students have,” Prum says
His start in paintball was just as unlikely. For his mom, Debby, a self-proclaimed pacifist and conscientious objector, the sport had all sorts of military connotations. For his dad, Bruce, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at UVA, there was the whole “you’ll-shoot-your-eye-out” issue. The first time they found a paintball gun under his bed, they grounded him for two months.
“It was exactly the wrong thing to do because it made him much more passionate,” Debby admits.
Initially, Prum’s parents also worried about all the traveling for paintball and his gig as onetime keyboardist in Sparky’s Flaw.
“We were worried we were wasting our money on a UVA education, but the truth is his grades went up the more he traveled,” Debby says. “I think being on a plane 13 hours a week has helped him be a better student.”
Except for a few telling welts and bruises from the weekend’s tournament, Prum’s double life as an extreme sport celebrity remains under the radar.
“It’s not something you bring up when you first meet someone, ‘Hey, I’m playing for the top paintball team in the world right now,’” he says. “If people ask where I’ve been all weekend, usually they laugh and think I said ‘pinball.’ Normally I just agree with them.”
Lofty Goals for Paintball
As if a testament to the sport’s growing popularity, a group of recreational paintballers who met through Facebook founded the Virginia Paintball Squad on Grounds this fall.
The team, which travels to Richmond for practices, competed in its first tournament March 29, fielding a five-man squad at the National Collegiate Paintball Association’s Southeast Finale against schools such as Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia.
“The most immediate goal is to get our name out there, to show UVA that we’re serious and get some help,” says co-founder Eric Burcham, a third-year double major in commerce and music. “We want to win championships; we want to win tournaments. That’s the dream.”