During the summer of 2015, I purchased a few patches from Michael Karman. Michael played on a variety of teams, mostly based out of Illinois, including the James Gang, Farside, Scream and Aftershock, he also worked for Direct Connect and PMI.
With the patches, Michael sent two field flag, one which came from Doc James Outdoor Games.
On August 22nd, 2015, I had the opportunity to paintball with Michael, while he was visiting Southern California to scrimmage with Black Sunday at SC Village. After the games I forced him to explain some of Doc James’ history.
Michael remembers first playing at Paintball Sam’s in Wisconsin with his martial arts team in 1983. But soon after, in 1984, he played at a semi local field, in Custer Park, Illinois, named Doc James Outdoor Games, Inc.
Doc James’ field was one of the most well known fields of the 1980s, and as Michael explains, also a very early field.
Michael doesn’t think Doc James Outdoor Games started as an NSG franchise, since they “used Nelspots, and it was not the [National Survival Games] Rules.”
Sure, all early National Survival Games fields would have began using Nelspot 007s, but I would agree with him since it seems Doc James had most of his own branding and didn’t retaining any aspect of “Survival Games” in the name.
Doc James gained popularity for the extent of their field designs and for how well the field was run. Many minor touches added to the experience.
Michael remembers that Doc James, “Had Tunnels running through everything, he had tunnels running underneath the creek.”
Michael started playing at Doc James with either a Nelspot or a PG pistol (either would likely be bolt action since pumps had not made their way to Illinois in 1984).
Ads for Doc James place it in Wilmington, Illinois, but Michael and Adam Cocker (also of Farside) remember it being in Custer Park. With only 5 mile separating these towns, it was likely in between. The location later became Forest Brown’s Challenge Park, in 1990 and maybe the zoning changed the town lines during Brown’s ownership?
I asked Michael if Pursuit Marketing, Inc.’s close proximity had any influence on Doc James’ field but he doesn’t think so. He believes that by the time PMI really became a well known distributor in 1984, Doc James was already established (Although PMI started in 1982 and their pistols were released and accepted earlier, the deal with RPS to become a massive paint distributor might not have been until 1984).
And at Doc James’ Outdoor Games Michael remembers shooting Nelson oil based paint out of cigar tubes.
Doc James’ home team, the James Gang were also one of the midwest’s more competitive groups during the mid 1980’s and competed in tournaments such as the National Survival Games Championships.
Michael joined the James Gang around the end of 1987 and although he didn’t play with the James Gang in any NSG Championships, he did compete locally before moving to New York.
Note: Michael says the James Gang competed at a NSG Championship in Ohio, but according to the following link on p8ntballer.com, by Pete “Robbo” Robinbson, who quotes text by John Amodea, who refers to a quote by Debra Dion Krischke, the NSG championships were only in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1989 and I would guess Michael would have been playing on Farside by that time.
And Michael remembers James as an “interesting character, he was a Medic in the Vietnam War.” Jessica Sparks also writes (in her February 1988 APG article) that James was a Green Beret and Medic.
Another regular at Doc James Outdoor Games was Larry Taylor, who later went on to work with Dan Colby at Air America, Guerrilla Air and now Immortal Air.
Taylor comments on Doc’s background in the military, remembering “Doc was a Green Beret medic and “flavored” the field to reflect his memories in Vietnam.”
Taylor first played at Doc James Outdoor Games towards the end of 1983.
“I played at Doc’s field the first time in late summer of ’83. He soon asked me to start reffing for him and that evolved into counter and repair work, field maintenance and eventually to Captain of the James Gang and helping run the field in Doc’s absence.”
In Michael’s interview, he goes on to reflect that while Doc James was recognized by those in the midwest as running one of the best fields, he panicked during his moment in the spotlight.
This came in 1987 when many households across the country tuned in and viewed Doc James debate along side Diana Dobbins (of ICD/Line SI) against Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo, on Nightline with Ted Koppel.
James succumbed to Zimbardo’s prodding and unfortunately, wasn’t as politically correct as he should have been for the national audience viewing.
As Karman explains, Doc James wasn’t quite “TV ready” and although James is certainly advocating paintball as a fun outdoor activity that builds camaraderie in the interview, his account of the game doesn’t help counter against Zimbardo’s argument, that paintball is only one step in a path in the players’ journey to violence and warfare.
Larry Taylor remembers the invitation for Nightline:
“Doc’s Nightline appearance was an out of the blue call, and unexpected. There was no widespread expectant audience of players and his appearance was really a local sensation. Barring whoever tuned in nationally.”
Larry continues, on Doc’s thoughts afterwards:
“Doc always said he wished he had more time to prepare and confer with other, at the time, fledgling field operators.”
Find the episode of Nightline above, hosted on vimeo by Michael Leon of Diablo Venture Games. It can’t be embedded but you can click on the link to view it. Also, please read Michael Leon’s description for more details and insight on the clip.
James does try to promote the game and make it out to be a fun game, but unfortunately he portrays paintball as a more masculine activity and focuses too much on the aggressiveness, giving Zimbardo exactly what he wanted.
James says, at 14:54, “It’s the game, it’s the excitement, it’s the American way of relieving their agressiveness.” Which feeds right into the opposing view and Zimbardo’s replies, “Excuse me, the American way of relieving their aggressiveness is to go to war.”
After another 30 seconds of James and Zimbardo’s argument spiraling out of control, Ted Koppel interrupts, and has Diana Dobbins bring her perspective to the conversation. Dobbins says, “I’m on a very serious team [(the Bushmasters?)] as far as competition goes, and yes we do [plan strategy], but we’re not so serious that we lose sight of what the game is all about. And basically what this game is to us, is just a lot of fun. We have a lot of good people on our team and we go out and have fun. And not only at war games but we do other things together. But we do not look at it as war. In fact, this game, if it’s taught me anything is, my son, I will never allow him to go to war. It just, You find out how useless it is.”
Diana goes on, a couple seconds later to reflect that she realizes, “When you take that first shot in your chest and you realize, if this was real war, I’d be dead right now, it’s just that simple, and it’s scary…”
Doc James’ Outdoor Games field went on for several years but eventually was sold to Forest Brown and became Challenge Park in 1989-90. This was well before construction of Challenge Park Xtreme (CPX).
Taylor remembers that James was going through some family issues and he decided to sell the park to Forest Brown.
Taylor says, “Doc had experienced marital problems and went though divorce proceedings late in 88-89. His financial and parental burden of having custody of his daughter and younger son lead him to focus more on their needs than the field . Selling to Forest allowed the field to continue as a working paintball field. Doc was involved with a few patents, not paintball related, and pursued these after leaving the business.”
Michael believes this change took place in 1989 and Adam Cocker writes,”I believe it was 1990. What year did the ironmen win everything? Wasn’t that 1991? And when the Lords were banned as well? Forest got [Doc James] property just before all that. I believe spring or summer of 1990.”
Adam also elaborates on Forest Brown’s prior history, explaining that he ran an Adventure Game of American franchise prior to Challenge Park. Adam explains, “Prior to the Custer Park field, [Forest] had summers at Sugar Grove and winters in Gardner, at Lake Shannon. [Brown’s field] was called the Adventure Game. It wasn’t called Challenge Park until the Custer Park property.”
Find more details on Doc James Outdoor Games in the above and below articles, written by Jessica Sparks and published in Action Pursuit Games in February of 1988.
Another article is shown below, which was also written by Jessica Sparks, and covered Doc James’ 1987 Winter Sports Contest tournament. This article appeared in the May 1988 issue of Action Pursuit Games.
Michael Karman, Larry Taylor, and Jessica Sparks are all pictured in the James Gang team photo in this article.
Thanks to Michael Karman who currently lives in Oregon and plays with Northwest Rogue. Another thanks to Larry Taylor, Adam Cocker, Jim Lively, Jessica Sparks and to Robert Anderson of Black Sunday for hosting the game we recorded these videos at.
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And find Larry Brown at Immortal Air at: