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In Newhall, Another Battlefield Scene Brought to You in Living Color

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spring is here and it’s time to romp around in the great outdoors.

If one opts to head to Newhall, one may romp with a weapon in one’s hand.

Along the Old Road in Newhall are several places where wars are fought on a regular basis--using paint balls, not live ammo, we’re happy to report.

Most of the camps are for clubs whose members have all the equipment for this sort of leisure-time activity, but at Close Encounters, anyone from 10 to 100 years of age with enough aggression, money and energy can drop by, pay up, gear up and go to war.

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For $35, Close Encounters owner Mike Schwartz provides beginners with camouflage clothing, a helmet and paint balls, which cost $5 for 100.

The weapon of choice to fire the paint may be anything from a pistol to a semiautomatic machine gun.

Every Saturday and Sunday, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., a new war game is started for participants every half hour. The $35 entry fee, according to Schwartz, is good all day.

Schwartz, who was in the Navy during the Vietnam era but saw no combat, got good enough at paint ball that he played on a professional exhibition team called Sudden Death in 1989.

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He returned in 1990 to the San Fernando Valley area, where he’d grown up, and opened his first field in Malibu, later moving it to Agoura Hills. It was burned in the Malibu-Calabasas fire, and he opened the Newhall facility shortly after that.

He gives instructions and explains game rules to the newcomers, who are divided into teams, with each team trying to capture the opposing team’s flag. Three games are played simultaneously on Close Encounters’ three 40-acre fields. Schwartz says the game attracts people of all ages.

“My game players are mostly professional people and their youngsters. We get lots of doctors, accountants, lawyers, people in high-pressure jobs. About 90% male. Women will come once and have fun, but the men will come back again and again,” he says.

He also attracts locally stationed Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel who never get to see combat. “They like to come out and organize their own battles,” he says.

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During the week, he also books bar mitzvahs, including one where the guest of honor was the target, and everyone in the party got to hunt him, and bachelor parties, including one where a combat-ready woman soldier stripped down to less than her BVDs.

Schwartz says that in addition to the fun and games, some corporations have a different reason for sending their people to play.

“Recently the vice president of human resources from a Silicon Valley company brought down 60 people to play the game while he watched. He was interested in seeing them interact, seeing who would take leadership roles and do the organizing, and how people behaved under pressure,” Schwartz says.

Park Service Veteran Leaving for His Old Kentucky Home

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William Webb, 60, is retiring after 30 years in the National Park Service. He was the first parks employee on the scene when the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was dedicated in November, 1979.

Before the Park Service, he had been a biology teacher and basketball and track coach at a school in Jenkins, Ky., and he’s heading back to that area with his wife, Caroleen, this August.

The Park Service sounds like a nice place to spend a professional lifetime smelling the flowers.

For Webb, it wasn’t quite as idyllic as all that.

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After being hired by the service as a recreation specialist in Kentucky, he became the superintendent of Booker T. Washington National Monument, where he says he spent a great deal of time in daily negotiations with a local group that wanted to burn the visitor’s center down.

His next assignment was as general superintendent for the Virgin Islands National Park and Christiansted National Historic Site, which must have been a good place to chill out. Webb then headed to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, where he was assistant and then deputy superintendent. He says there was some stormy weather during those days.

“There were growing pains,” says Webb. “Change often brings conflicts.”

At times he might have felt as if he were a referee, as various organizations fought to shape the way the area would be put to use.

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He says he is definitely looking forward to returning to his Kentucky home, although he says he will miss his friends and colleagues.

He didn’t say anything about missing the fires, quakes and floods.

Overheard:

“The dress I want for the prom costs about $50 more, and has about two yards less material on top, than this one my mom wants me to wear.”

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--Teen-age girl at Nordstrom in Woodland Hills, to salesperson.


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