The snow was still crisp as Oxford Police Department (OPD) Lieutenant Lara Fening was answering a call about an alleged trespassing on a local Oxford community member’s property. There were footprints on the resident’s upper and lower decks. When Fening looked closer, she noticed that the imprints were of bare feet. With two kids of her own in high school, she knew the culprit.
As the new year began, so did the annual tradition of Talawanda High School students: Nerf Wars. With the wars underway, OPD received an increase in Nerf-related reports. Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 3, OPD responded to five separate incidents involving the Nerf Wars.
The game is run by Talawanda students and takes place outside school grounds. Students pay a $10 fee to play and split up into teams. After that, students are armed with Nerf guns and a singular mission: to be the last team standing. Students are not allowed to shoot players that are on school grounds or that are naked.
Fening said the main problem with Nerf Wars in the Oxford community has been the use of cars. A police report filed Jan. 3, detailed multiple instances of Nerf War participants creating traffic violations.
“Participants were blocking other cars in, blocking roadways and blocking exits to parking lots, and that's just not okay,” Fening said. “There's going to be a car crash because these are inexperienced drivers; they're distracted, and they're trying to do reckless things with the car, so it's a terrible combination.”
To try to address some of her concerns, on Jan. 5 Fening posted to the OPD Facebook page asking parents to discuss the issue of unsafe driving with their students.
Miami sophomore and Talawanda alumnus Josh Huddleston participated in the Nerf Wars during his sophomore and junior years at Talawanda. He doesn’t recall the police becoming involved in the game although he does remember using cars frequently while playing.
“A lot of people would just drive around like [in a] stupid way,” Huddleston said. “It was kind of pointless, really, because no one would ever get out of their cars. So everybody would just be driving in circles really fast around the neighborhoods.”
Fening said she thinks the competition can work if students focus less on the use of cars.
“It could be a harmless, entertaining activity,” Fening said. “Kids are at least bonding together. They're not playing devices on a screen; they're actually interacting. But of course, they take it too far, and it's gonna ruin it.”
The nature of the game has also concerned some residents of Oxford. Fening said that many residents see the students running and blocking parking lots and fear for their safety.
“That's kind of scary to all of them,” Fening said. “They think that there's something going down, not realizing it's just a game.”
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In one incident, Fening said 40-50 teenagers involved in this year’s Nerf Wars were caught trespassing in an Oxford resident’s yard. A fight had started by the time OPD was called to the scene. In another incident, students ran around a park naked in order to avoid being shot.
“You're asking high schoolers to use good judgment, and that doesn't always happen,” Fening said. “You rely on good judgment in a competition like this, and inevitably they're going to fail to some degree.”