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‘Nerf Wars’ takes the area by storm

Cloquet's Westin Michaud was in mourning on Tuesday. He had already been "killed off" during combat in the Cloquet "Nerf Wars" competition and had used up his one buy-back option as well. That means he is pretty much out of the action -- in one s...

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Cloquet’s Westin Michaud was in mourning on Tuesday. He had already been “killed off” during combat in the Cloquet “Nerf Wars” competition and had used up his one buy-back option as well. That means he is pretty much out of the action - in one sense of the word.

As one of the “commissioners” of “Nerf Wars,” Michaud remains heavily involved in the administration end of light-hearted, action-packed competition, which began last Friday night at 7 p.m. and continues until the last man (or woman) is standing.

“I’m getting at least five phone calls a day (from competitors), and we’re trying to keep up with updating the spreadsheets and Twitter account as well,” he said. “I’m pretty much on the clock all the time.”

A social media phenomenon that has taken the country by storm of late, “Nerf Wars” is a little like the old pursuit game of “cops and robbers,” except that its competitors rely on toy guns and soft foam pellets to go after each other. It operates within a highly structured set of rules established by its organizers, or “commissioners,” but the one thing about it that’s certain - the participants are having a whole lot of fun doing it.

The competition was organized locally by a handful of students from Cloquet High School (though it is in no way a school-sanctioned event). It began as the inkling of an idea hatched during a midnight telephone conversation last Sunday between seniors Maxx Brenner and Alec Balzer.

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“I’d heard about it from a friend from Cloquet who goes to Duluth Denfeld,” said Balzer. “They had a ‘Nerf Wars’ competition a couple of weeks ago and had a great time.”

Brenner said the idea pretty much took on a life of its own after that.

“We wrote up the rules, based on the ones used by Hermantown and Duluth,” said Brenner, “and (fellow commissioner) Westin Michaud suggested we include kids from Esko as well.”

The students put out word of the competition on social media, spread the word to fellow students in grades 9-12 at the two schools and posted the rules for prospective participants to go over. An organizational meeting was held last Thursday night, at which time team rosters had to be submitted.

Teams had to be comprised of five players each and pay an entry fee of $25 per team. By Thursday, the number of entries had reached an astounding 50 teams and 250 players.

“We thought we’d be lucky to get 25 teams,” said Michaud. “As soon as we put it out on Twitter, all of a sudden we had 50!”

“That was way more than we expected,” admitted Brenner.

The rules of the game are very specific and well thought out, in order to avoid any trouble or trauma for participants or community members. Work places, school grounds (during school hours), lunch places, churches, grad parties, golf courses, workout places and sports or other school-sponsored  events are all off bounds.

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Competitors seek to “kill” other competitors by scoring a hit on them with a foam Nerf “bullet.” When that happens, both the victor and the victim must post a photo of the two of them on the official Twitter account, marking the elimination. If a participant “dies” before midnight, May 22, he or she can buy his or her way back into the game for $20 (one time).

There are many other rules regarding “duels,” “bounties,” prohibited equipment, hours of play, entering private homes and obeying laws. Above all, organizers say, the cardinal rule that everyone must abide by is following the rules. Anyone caught cheating will cause their entire team to be eliminated.

“As long as everyone buys into the rules, everything should go OK,” said Michaud.

“And if everyone is honest about it….” added Brenner.

As the “Nerf Wars” kicked off on Friday night, no one knew quite what to expect. Brenner said his team just kind of “hunkered down” for the first hour or so and then they went out and roamed around the streets to try to hunt down other competitors.

A total of 49 “kills” overall were logged that first night alone, keeping Brenner and the other commissioners very busy.

“Doing this is kind of like operating a small business,” stated Balzer, who is responsible for keeping the spreadsheets up to date. “That first night was especially stressful, because we were trying to compete but we also had to keep everything up to date. Competitors expected to see their ‘kills’ logged within a few minutes of the time they posted them. I had to bring my laptop along with me!”

The “Nerf Wars” competition was still going on at the time this issue of the Pine Journal went to press, and Interim Cloquet Police Chief Terry Hill said things have been pretty quiet thus far.

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Police Detective Derek Randall, who is also the Cloquet High School liaison officer, chose to take a proactive approach to making that happen by putting out a notice on Facebook encouraging participants to remain cautious and law-abiding.

“I was somewhat guarded when I first heard about this,” he admitted, “but I tried to compose a message that would not spoil it for the participants but let them know the risks involved. In itself, ‘Nerf Wars’ is not a crime, but the potential is there. The last thing I want to do is have our officers respond to a report of an illegal house entry or a car crash related to this.”

Randall said if police are alerted to reports of someone entering a house or running around with a gun tucked in their waistband, they have to respond as though it might be an actual crime in the making.

“Sometimes kids kind of forget about the perspective of law enforcement and how they are held responsible to respond to our citizens,” he commented.

Randall did add that he is grateful the kids didn’t decide to take the “Nerf Wars” undercover and were upfront about what was going to happen with anyone who was interested in learning about it. He also said he was impressed at the mutual respect exhibited by the organizers in putting together the boundaries.

“I have to give them credit for being able to go with the flow,” he said. “Just this week they decided to add this weekend’s Wiffleball Tournament to the places where the game was prohibited. “They’re being realistic and not turning this into more than it should be. They don’t want to ruin other events.”

As of Wednesday both Michaud and Balzer were already among those “killed” - but there’s still hope. After the game has gone on for two weeks, three “revival orbs” will be hidden around Cloquet and clues will be tweeted at random times.

Though the commissioners say it’s still too early to log a final total on the amount of money brought in by the “Nerf Wars” (Balzer said thus far most kids who were “killed” have opted to pay out the money to buy back in), they have big plans for what to do with it. Brenner said they plan to give $200 to the local R.E.A.C.H. program, where several of them serve as mentors, and Balzer said he anticipates they’ll have at least $500-$600 more to donate to other charities as well. The balance will go to the winning team.

All say they’re pleased with how the “Nerf War” has gone thus far.

“It’s something to do and keeps kids out of trouble,” commented Michaud.

Randall agreed.

“Overall I think it’s pretty innocuous,” he said. “Kids could be doing a lot worse things, when you look at some of the video games that glorify violence against cops.”

Michaud said with some 80-90 students participating from Esko, it’s been a great way to bridge the gap between the two communities.

“It’s been really fun getting out and meeting new people,” he said. “We’ve had a great time!”

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