Springtime is a busy and event-driven season for graduating high school seniors, filled with graduation caps, prom outfits and the annual Nerf Wars.
An event held at both Gig Harbor High School and Peninsula High School, Nerf Wars is a much anticipated tradition among high school seniors.
Beginning just after Spring Break and running through Memorial Day, the basics of the game features teams of seniors who pay into a pot and then compete to win by shooting opposing team members with Nerf guns.
The games are seen by many seniors and their families in the community as a way for students to blow off pre-finals steam and bond with classmates, but concerns about reckless and possibly illegal behavior cast a cloud over the festivities.
Riley Paul, a GHHS senior and ASB president, is the facilitator for the GHHS Nerf Wars this year.
“It’s crazy, to say the least. The first two weeks are definitely the most insane and crazy,” she said. “It’s weird because you’re like the mom of 230 kids.”
Paul, 18, is in charge of recording “kills” (when one student or team manages to hit another with their Nerf darts) and of enforcing the rules of the game.
It’s crazy, to say the least. The first two weeks are definitely the most insane and crazy. It’s weird because you’re like the mom of 230 kids.
Riley Paul, GHHS senior and the facilitator for the GHHS Nerf Wars
Paul’s biggest goal this year was to negate some of the community concerns about the safety of the game — especially concerns about student driving safety.
“I kind of knew I was going to have my hands full. I kept the rules but kind of made it my own thing this year in order to make it safe and prevent accidents,” she said. “I don’t want it to get ruined and get taken away because of dumb decisions that people make.”
The driving is a main concern for many parents, who see students getting involved in the games and seem to lose focus on pedestrians and other vehicles.
“My biggest beef really is the way they drive through the residential neighborhoods,” said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous because they have a child in a local high school. “It can be a scary thing (to witness) if you don’t know what’s happening.”
Paul said that she’s seen the games tone down since she introduced her strictest rule about driving: A vehicle’s engine must be off in order for a “kill” to count, regardless of whether the person shot was inside or outside of the car.
While safety is a concern for all parents, many look forward to the games and even participate themselves to help their children or their children’s friends during hunts.
I think it’s so totally fun. I wish they did this back when I was in highschool. It not only brings the kids closer, but also the parents.
Gina Gray, GHHS parent
Gina Gray is a GHHS parent whose daughter, now in college, played Nerf Wars, and whose son, Alexander, participated in this year’s game as a senior.
“I think it’s so totally fun. I wish they did this back when I was in high school,” Gray said. “It not only brings the kids closer, but also the parents.”
Gray said that she helped her son with the games, checking the yard for students hiding in ambush and helping to sneak him in and out of the house.
“It’s like a rite of passage,” she said. “”It’s a sneaky kind of fun.”
While Gray enjoys Nerf War and her family’s participation, she does acknowledge the safety concerns that other parents have mentioned.
“When do you see teenagers who aren’t doing dumb stuff? They do dumb things,” she said. “But kids do dumb things whether or not it’s Nerf Wars. I’d rather them do Nerf Wars then go out drinking or going to parties.”
The Peninsula School District addressed Nerf Wars with a letter sent home to families reminding them that the games are not endorsed or associated with the district. Some of the concerns expressed by the district — along with driving safety and trespassing — were that a community member would perceive some threat or danger from rambunctious teenagers and concern over the “naked rule.”
When do you see teenagers who aren’t doing dumb stuff? They do dumb things. But kids do dumb things whether or not it’s Nerf Wars. I’d rather them do Nerf Wars then go out drinking or going to parties.
The “naked rule” is a clause in the game that allows participants to be “safe” from elimination if they are naked, though game facilitators at both high schools have modified the rules so that unclothed students are not a frequent sighting around Gig Harbor.
At GHHS, where the games are a bigger event with a longer tradition dating back almost 20 years, the “naked rule” is limited to the students’ own yard, according to Paul.
“If someone wants to utilize the naked rule that’s fine, but you can only use it on your own property,” she said. “That way we don’t have naked high schoolers running around Gig Harbor.”
The PHS game is slightly different, and calmer, than the GHHS game, according to Teagan Horkan, the facilitator for this year’s PHS Nerf War.
At PHS, students compete for points and are assigned specific teams to hunt with each hit equaling points for the team.
The “naked rule” is also toned down at PHS to allow students to keep on their underwear and prevent any uncomfortable situations. Rules that both schools share include school grounds and events being off limits to the game, giving students a 15-minute safety window to get to and from work, and respecting the “Nerf Free Zone” signs scattered around Gig Harbor businesses and restaurants.
With Memorial Day fast approaching, Paul is relieved to soon be free of Nerf Wars updates to her phone and from mediating Nerf-related disputes.
“Of any commitment I’ve ever made, this has been the craziest. It’s insane,” she said. “(But) it’s just such a fun tradition so long as you control it.”