Teens' Nerf guns raise ruckus
By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Blue Ash Police Officer Michael Bray checks out a homemade soft-dart gun at police headquarters. On the table are confiscated homemade and commercially produced Nerf dart guns and two-way radios.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
BLUE ASH - Dressed in camouflage, their skin smeared with dark paint, the young warriors lie in wait in bushes for hours before dawn to ambush an opponent leaving for school.
With an eye on a $1,600 prize for the last team standing, they track one another at work, baseball games, even church youth gatherings, looking for a "kill."
They hire informants to spy, and friends and siblings are paid to set up adversaries for ambushes. They chase one another in cars. Both boys and girls run through their neighborhoods stripped down to mere thongs, invoking a rule that renders them "invisible" to their enemy.
Their feats in "Dart Wars" are the stuff of legend among Sycamore High School students. The six-week rite of spring using Nerf dart guns as weapons has been going on for almost a decade, and students look forward to what they describe as harmless, challenging fun.
Nerf guns use springs to compress air and shoot shoot soft foam darts or balls.
School officials and police would like to see Dart Wars disappear. The elaborate Rambo-style game of tag has become so popular that it dominates the lives of about 200 student players and is the daily talk of the school, starting the day after spring break ends.
Sycamore administrators say Dart Wars is too disruptive.
Blue Ash police say it's too dangerous.
Since this year's game started April 12, officers have drawn their guns on a student and threatened others with criminal charges. They worry about a player being shot by a scared homeowner or that a real criminal will be overlooked as a dart-game player.
"Quite frankly, if I was in high school, it looks like something that would be pretty much fun," said Lt. Dennis Boone, who is commander of the city's road patrol. "It would look harmless until you think in this day and age, with all the crazy things going on right now, the timing is probably just not really good for this."
Andrew Shaver is a Rum Runner. The 17-year-old junior and four teammates fashion themselves as hard-core warriors who take Dart Wars seriously.
This year and last, Andrew carried an automatic Nerf gun with a "power clip" capable of holding 10 darts. He dressed in camo and painted his face.
"I've always liked watching Rambo movies, and I just like military stuff ... going out with face paint like the Marines," Andrew said.
Blue Ash police investigated a complaint that Andrew and a teammate shot from a driveway at an opponent in a garage on Woodlands Way. A concerned neighbor driving by at 7:15 a.m. called police. Officers threatened to charge the three teens with inducing panic. Parents and their sons spent two hours at the station meeting with a sergeant and promised that their sons were out of the game.
"They said they weren't trying to single us out, but it was obvious that they were," Andrew said. He was later disqualified when he was found with a dart gun on school grounds.
Andrew's mother, Ginger Shaver, said officers have legitimate concerns. But she thinks that the response by Blue Ash police is too harsh. Andrew is her third and last child playing the game since 1998.
"The kids are involved in what's considered a legal pastime in terms that it is an elaborate game of tag," she said. "I obviously don't feel it's anything to get really worked up about."
Shaver thinks that if more was done to publicize the annual competition, residents wouldn't overreact and call police needlessly.
So far this spring, Blue Ash police have confiscated about 15 Nerf guns and PVC pipes fashioned into blowguns, as well as a pair of walkie-talkies.
Three days into the competition, Blue Ash officers pulled guns on a student in the parking lot of an apartment complex on Timbers Drive. They had received a report at 6:36 a.m. of a male in fatigues crouched by a silver Firebird. The resident told police that the man was "possibly holding a rifle."
Chief Chris Wallace said the department "pretty much has a zero-tolerance policy" for Dart Wars. Boone said his officers have been told since the beginning that they have discretion to file charges against Dart Wars players if they think the incident warrants it. They also are cautioned never to let their guard down on any run. So, they are justified in pulling their pistols.
"We see our share of crazy stuff - people with guns and people who are nuts - and they leave it to us in a split second to decide who is crazy, what is a real gun and who is a high school kid with a fake gun playing Dart Wars in the dark wearing camo," Boone said.
However, police in Montgomery - where the high school is located and many of the kids live - don't confiscate dart guns and don't interfere unless players commit a crime, Chief Kirk Nordbloom said.
"Don't think for a minute we aren't concerned about this," he said. "But, our stance is, if you abide by the law, you won't have a problem with it. Play your game. But, if you break the law, you pay the price."
Police in both communities say they have responded to Dart Wars incidents for years involving trespassing, suspicious activity, car wrecks, lawn jobs and reports of teens running naked through yards shooting each other.
Cash and a thrill
For players, Dart Wars offers the chance to turn an $8 entry fee into $200 or more. But the jackpot isn't the only draw.
"If you win Dart Wars, you can brag about that for years," said Matt McKeown, an 18-year-old senior who is one of this year's organizers. "I don't know how to explain it. We still sit down and talk about stories from sophomore year. It's just so much fun. I love it. I love it."
Versions of Dart Wars have been waged by students at other high schools through the years. Norwood played it briefly in 1985, and a mini-game surfaced last year among Loveland high-schoolers.
But, no one, apparently, does it as Sycamore does. The game started nine or more years ago as an invitation-only competition with 40 to 50 players.
Rules - from the type of weapons and darts permitted to infractions that call for disqualification - were added in 1998 in an effort to keep the game organized as more male and female students joined in and more money was pumped into the kitty.
This year, girls make up a quarter of the teams, and a couple of teams are coed. A five-player team pays $40 to get into the game, pushing the jackpot this spring to $1,600 for the winning team. Winners stand to take home $200 or more apiece after some money is given to a charity and judges are paid to offset expenses.
Parents have mixed feelings about the game. They see some benefits, but worry, especially when their kids are out in a car.
Pat Linhardt has warned his closest neighbors that his son, Kyle, is involved in the game. He's cautioned Kyle, a junior, to be "real darn careful about driving."
"It's not bad for kids to have to organize something, make their own rules and then follow them. But the whole aspect of them running around trying to shoot each other gets a little crazy," Linhardt, of Symmes Township, said.
In the Dewald family, two sons and a daughter have graduated through the game. Son Chad, the eldest, is given credit for setting the rules.
"It was a real good way of getting to know your classmates. Really, it was just good clean fun," mother Marty Dewald said.
Dewald thinks her kids learned something along the way. Chad strengthened his arbitration skills when he had to settle player disputes as a game judge. Planning ambushes and other trickery exercised a lot of creativity, she said.
In lieu of drinking
Sycamore High School officials began cracking down on the game in the late 1990s. They banned any Dart Wars activity on school grounds and school-sponsored events in 1999 after a carload of students was rear-ended jumping from a vehicle to shoot another team.
Associate Principal Jim Skoog has gained a reputation as the "commandant" in charge of confiscation. It is his job to police the parking lot and take guns and darts that are visible in cars.
The first day of Dart Wars this year, he collected 25 guns and put five teams out of business. They were disqualified for breaking the "no-school" rules.
"We nailed a bunch of them, and that's the easy way to do it. Nobody knows the rules or reads them all. They just start to play," Skoog said.
He's talked to police in both communities about calling a halt to Dart Wars. Officers suggested that Montgomery and Blue Ash could pass resolutions to outlaw the game, he said. So far, nothing has been done.
"That's the only way that it would stop," Skoog said.
Players say it would be unfair to kill off Dart Wars.
"As long as there is no damage to property, it's not hurting anything. It's not illegal," Andrew Shaver said. "I think it's something for kids to do instead of going out drinking or something like that. It's a good alternative."
I'm too old, but anyone here play?
Sounds like a a fun game, sorry I missed out on it.
Damn, I wish we had something like that going when I was in school.
LOL... Sycamore HS is right up the street from my office.
These kids are serious about this game and attack each other in businesses, etc...
I played that a couple of years ago at NIU.
The most fun I ever had at school.
Is it absolutely necessary that one be a stupid prick in order to become a police spokesman or policymaker? I'd be real interested in knowing on what basis they confiscated peoples NERF GUNS for pete's sake. That "inducing panic" charge has real potential for keeping the wrong sort of people out of your neighborhood, too. What a bunch of pinheads!
Blue Ash is probably the biggest business district in Cincinnati outside of downtown. It's got a huge light industrial base and corporate office presence. Sycamore schools are an interesting mix of a lot of wealthy kids who live just outside Blue Ash and also the blue collar kids who live in the municipality. It's a huge district with a massive tax base.
I used to interact regularly with the Blue Ash PD years ago when I had started my own company, but continued to work to pay the bills. I worked 3rd shift at the Blue Ash Kinko's and got to know a lot of the neighborhood kids. Most of them were roughnecks but underneath it all, pretty good kids who just had it really tough growing up. The Blue Ash PD regularly stopped into the store to check on me at night, check on the kids, etc.... I learned a lot about the department from that experience.
About 20 years ago, apparently a bunch of the Jamaican Posse had decided to set up shop in Blue Ash as a major distribution hub for drugs in Ohio/KY/Indiana. Because of the large tax base, the officers got serious funding for all kinds of training, heavy ordinance, etc... After they cleaned out the gang, they continued to operate with a very military-like SOP.
It's still that way today, with a heavy zero-tolerance policy for nearly anything under the sun.
If you are cited for more than one moving violation traffic offense in Blue Ash in a 12 month period, even though the state of Ohio gives you 12 points on your license until you lose them, Blue Ash preempts the state DMV regs and yanks your license with no work privs. Two tickes in 12 months in the city and you're screwed.
Well, that should keep stakeouts in the bushes from getting boring....
It's TOO DANGEROUS!!
Maybe the nanny state can save us!!
There's something seriously wrong with a system that allows the city fathers of East Bumfuck to make their own driver's license regulations.
Its just kids having Fun
why not set up a Game Field? like with pant ball?
Gee, think that rule was thought up once the girls started playing
Is that enforceable throughout Ohio, or do you just lose priveledges in Blue Ash?
Seems that city law shouldn't pre-empt state law.
I like how the news article HAD to mention the full automatic super lethal 10 round G14 foam dart assault nerf gun. Freaking news crews need some edumacation.
Sounds like fun. Too bad the country has become pussified.
Oh well, I guess for the safety of the community the kids should put away the toy dart guns and go back to doing normal teenager activities like underage drinking and drug use.
that article makes me absolutely sick. of all the things that those kids could be doing instead... and they crack down on them for this?
i can't believe it's gotten to the point in this country where "inciting panic" with brightly colored foam projectiles is a legitimate reason to draw a gun on a kid and possably press charges.
what needs to happen is this: every time someone calls in a panic about this, the cops should show up and slap the shit out of them.
The penalty is Ohio-wide. The sitting municipal judge can revoke your license as a sentence and it is recognized.
Welcome to Charter government where if enough citizens vote a referendum, a muicipality or even a county can scrap the Ohio Administrative Code and write their own rules as long as the state prescribed minimum standards are met (must have a court, must have a prosecutor, must have SO or LEO agency, etc...)
When I was in highschool a few of us did the same thing. Except we used paintguns, and we had fewer rules. You very quickly figured out what paintball paint would wash out of and off of, and what it did not.
Maybe the police should be thinking about letting up a little...These kids just may be better train'd to take over the local city Gov't and fix the heavy hand that the Cops use to slap citizens down.
Give them back their guns and walkie-talkies and butt out unless there is a real crime!
I think my fucking head is going to explode!!!!
How the FUCK is this any different that what we did as kids--i.e. playing "Army" or "War" or "cowboys and Indians?"
I have never heard of such pussified, feminized cops, citizens, or city officials in my life. \
NERF DARTS gets a gun drawn on you? A ZERO tolerance policy for NERF DART WARS! You must be fucking kidding me.
This country deserves to overthrown by some people with some BALLS. That's why we are getting our assess handed to us in the court of world opinion. We are a bunch of pansies who get scared over NERF DARTS!!@$@#%!%
ARGGGGGGHGJQEHMqohtrjqwhqetnhoqetnwoqnqneonoqknreg....FUCK...ASS, COCK....AAHGAJGQKRG...i need a fucking drink.