Dan Paynter landed on an international stage for his definitive athletic milestone.
Paynter, a 36-year-old IT systems analyst for Kohl’s Department Stores and a 1993 Janesville Parker High School graduate, will play for the U.S. Fistball team at the Fistball World Championships Aug. 7-14 in Austria.
“I consider myself really lucky to make the team,” Paynter said. “I am proud to represent my country.’’
The oldest of 10 players selected out of 25 candidates in tryouts for the U.S. team last year, Paynter said his savvy and experience are a plus for a team whose average age is 25.
“I can get to the ball,” Paynter said. “I hustle. I’m not the fastest, but I give my all, and I keep everybody motivated. I guess I’m a coach on the field.’’
U.S. Fistball coach Ron Jesswein likes Paynter’s experience and veteran competitive edge.
“Dan has a drive and a desire to improve,” Jesswein said in an email. “He works hard, stays in shape and has the volleyball background, which is an asset as a hitter. He is a positive influence on the team and a team player.’’
Paynter, a longtime volleyball player, has lived in Jackson since 2002. Paynter was unaware that the U.S. Fistball Association was headquartered in Jackson, which is just outside the Milwaukee suburb of Germantown.
“I just found out about fistball two years ago,” Paynter said. “I decided to give it a shot.’’
Paynter plays for the local Renegade Fistball team and was a member of the 2010 B-Level Eastern Fistball championship team.
Fistball is hundreds of years old and largely popular in Europe. It is also played in Asia, Africa and South America. Austria is the reigning world champion.
“I would say four teams rule the sport,” Paynter said. “Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Brazil.’’
Fistball borrows from volleyball and tennis. It is played on a surface smaller than a soccer pitch either indoors or outdoors on grass. Five team members on each side of a 6-foot high net play two halves of 12 minutes of striking the ball to catch the other team off guard.
On each possession, a team can have three bounces of the ball before sending it back to the opponent. Players have to hit the ball with a closed fist or with one arm, and the ball can travel up to 100 mph.
“It’s a reflex game. You have to run and dive—actually lay out,’’ Paynter said. “The ball is heavier and harder than a volleyball, and it can hurt when you hit it.’’
Paynter’s volleyball career included intramural volleyball at Parker, club teams at UW-Whitewater, winning a beach volleyball title and playing for Madison Area Technical College’s 2004 Division I NIRSA national championship team.
“I’ve played volleyball for years,” Paynter said. “I got really good at volleyball.’’
It took Paynter a year to get comfortable playing the new game.
“It took the whole first year to learn and not to fall back on old volleyball habits,” Paynter said. “You hit the ball different. You have to hit it higher. You want as much power as possible, and you want to hit it straight.’’
The Fistball World Championships are held every four years, and the U.S. competed in 1999 and 2007.
Paynter is riveted on his Fistball World Championship tournament challenge.
“I think this is probably my last hurrah,” Paynter said. “I’m taking it very seriously.’’