Having a ball with quirky past time

Mike and Glenda Carmichael of Alexandria have been married a long time, but they still have a ball. In fact, they’ve had this ball for nearly 40 years. A paintball, that is.

You’ve probably seen or heard about it, but as a TV reporter, I will soon have the honor of covering this story again. And covering is exactly the right word.

It all started in 1977 when Mike and his 3-year-old son, Michael Jr., painted a baseball that was sitting on a shelf in their garage. Mike thought it would be a fun pastime for his family to continually repaint the ball to see just how big it could get.

Fast-forward four decades and almost (key word: almost) 25,000 coats of paint later, and we now have a 4,500-pound sphere of paint so big it sits (hangs, really) in a nearby barn. Yikes! And there is no end (of circumference) in sight. How big is it? Well, as you will learn by the end of this column you will be able to see it … and then you’ll believe it.

When I first did the story on TV in the ’90s, Mike’s venture was a mere roadside oddity, and to know about it you really did have to pass by his little rural road in Madison County. After the segment aired, everything snowballed, er … paint-balled. Since then, Mike has been featured on numerous national travel shows, “CBS This Morning” and a page in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” And, of course, “The Guinness Book of World Records.”

But now with Facebook and Twitter, the word — and the paint — have really spread. “I’ve had people drive all the way from Canada just to paint the ball,” says Mike, whose detailed records show painters from almost every state. Also logged are the different colors in each layer (there are 20 choices) and the name of each person. “Sometimes an entire family wants to paint the ball,” says Mike. “It’s cheaper than a day at Disney World.”

Mike’s wife, Glenda, is responsible for more than 8,000 paint coats, a feat for which she is openly proud. “It’s more fun than vacuuming, and you feel like you have accomplished something.” You have?

There have been celebrity painters, as well. The Oakridge Boys put on a couple of coats along with Bill and Gloria Gaither, and they all sang a few tunes in the process. That process, by the way, takes about 10 minutes if you go it alone, but many families, each member equipped with his or her own provided roller, can knock off a coat in just a couple of minutes. To ensure that no one “misses a spot,” there is a mirror under the ball to see those hard-to-reach places. The ball is not a perfect sphere. “In fact,” admits Mike, “it’s kind of lumpy.”

To paint the ball, Mike asks that you make an appointment, but he has welcomed a few unannounced visitors. “It’s hard to turn down someone who’s travelled hundreds of miles just to get a photo of themselves panting the ball.”

On the morning of Jan. 23 on WISH-TV’s Daybreak, I will be painting the 25,000th coat. How interesting will that be? About as interesting as watching paint dry.