Members of Lakeside High School's baseball team spent a recent day off from school huddled at the home of a teammate and modifying foam darts.
BBs were used to weight some darts so that they would fly farther.
The Panthers baseball players make up one of 16 teams from the school engaged in Nerf Wars, a student-led game with the object of not getting tagged by an opposing player.
Columbia County schools were canceled Feb. 23 after winter weather was predicted for the area. Lakeside students took advantage of forecasters' miscues by congregating at Jones Creek tennis courts for a shootout in sunny, 50-degree weather.
The shootout serves as a free-for-all for players who have not been eliminated during the week. Sixteen teams started the game, at the cost of $30 a team.
Players go to great lengths to eliminate opposing players, waking early in the morning for a surprise attack at their home before school, entering through doors left ajar, or ambushing someone while getting their car washed.
"You would think this is stupid and it's real childish, but it's really fun when you're out there running around trying to shoot people," said Lakeside senior Sam Pollock, who enforces the rules as a mediator. "It is kind of scary when you got to worry about getting out of your car, getting out of your house and all that, because you don't want to get (eliminated) and let your teammates down."
Greenbrier and Evans also hold wars during the fall. Pollock said he has heard stories of Nerf Wars that go back years.
But the games still raise the concern of area residents.
The stealth-like nature of the game combined with the unconventional hours in which it's played has led to some residents' annoyance and fear over what might be lurking in their yard.
Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris knows Nerf Wars.
A few years ago, when Morris's son, Cal, was a student at Greenbrier, his yard was invaded. Foam dart-wielding assailants waited in Morris' bushes at dawn for the chance to eliminate Cal as he left for school.
"Running across someone's property in the middle of the night or early morning hours is reckless and dangerous," Morris said. "(We need to) encourage these students to seek permission from the property owner prior to conducting this activity."
Participants will not find permission from area schools. The game's rules say no shooting can take place at school, church or at a student's job site.
Lakeside Principal Jeff Carney says a lot can go wrong and has urged his ninth-grade son not to participate.
"The kids are pretty good about keeping it away from school events," Carney said. "What happens in neighborhoods, I don't control that."
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