Bradenton dads aim to strengthen community at annual Father’s Day event

Seven years ago, two friends decided a day grilling out isn't the only way to spend Father's...
Seven years ago, two friends decided a day grilling out isn't the only way to spend Father's Day. Instead, they found a way to trigger support for dozens of dads.(Shane Battis)
Published: Jun. 19, 2022 at 5:14 PM EDT
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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - What comes to mind when you think of celebrating Father’s Day? A day grilling some dogs in the backyard, or perhaps casting a fishing reel at a local pier? Whatever it is, paintball likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

However, that’s how some fathers in Bradenton have been spending their special day for the past seven years. Two friends are hosting the 7th Annual Father’s Day Paintball Event, blasting away at Hi-Tech Paintball Park.

“We wanted to do something kind of untraditional in that aspect of a traditional barbecue get together on Father’s Day,” Gregory Cruz, one of the event’s co-founders, said

Untraditional is right. Cruz and his friend Lee Rivera have been inviting dads from all over the area to kick back and enjoy a more riveting Father’s Day with them. They explain it’s a great way to have some real fun and build community between fathers in Bradenton.

Cruz says for years more and more dads have been coming out with their families, building new friendships between like-minded people.

“It provides a sense of support and its fun,” Cruz said. “I mean, who doesn’t like to come and play? You’re also allowed to watch behind protective netting.”

Rivera emphasized how it’s so important to make fathers feel valued on their holiday. He talked about how dads shoulder a lot of responsibilities and don’t always get the same fanfare as mothers.

So, the paintball shootout is a way to show dads they care, and more importantly, give them a fun way to bond with their kids.

“A lot of kids can’t see their parents cause they’re gone,” Rivera said. “So, it’s just a blessing to do whatever we can while we’re here.”

Throughout the past seven years, the shootout has grown from a handful of dads to close to 50 people all showing up clad in protective gear ready to go. Seeing enthusiasm for the annual meetup continue.

“It just makes my heart happy that’s all,” Rivera said. “It just keeps a smile on my face.”

Organizers say they want to see even more fathers come out next year. To make the day at the paintball park even more beneficial to Bradenton, Cruz and Rivera say they plan on raising money for a local nonprofit in the future.

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