Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/8/2015 (547 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Melissa Harder was sick and tired of her yard looking like a scene from a Rambo movie.
For the last three years, every time Harder asked her sons what they wanted to do for their individual birthdays, their answer was "Nerf war."
"They and their friends had tons of fun — there’s no doubt about that — but by the end of the afternoon, our backyard was completely destroyed," Harder says, shaking her head. "The kids would flip all the lawn furniture over and push my garden barrels down so they could have things to hide behind. So yeah, when I heard I could do this for a birthday party instead, I thought it was pure genius."
The "this" Harder refers to is Dartpocalypse — a five-monthold enterprise that supplies blasters, ammunition, safety goggles and, most importantly to parents such as Harder, preconstructed barriers... pretty much everything one would need to stage a Nerf battle for as many as 40 participants.
Scott and KeriAnn Stone came up with the idea for Dartpocalypse on New Year’s Eve 2013, during a hotel stay with their children, Elliot, 12, and Allegra, 8.
"We had gone to the CanadInns on Pembina (Highway) and to amuse himself, my son brought along some (Nerf) guns," says KeriAnn, an education student at the University of Winnipeg. "It eventually turned into a family war and we spent most of that night messing around, ducking behind beds and chairs. When we got back home the next morning, Scott and I wondered if there was anything in town similar to what we’d been doing, only more organized."
After finding out the answer to their question was no, they decided to launch a business of their own.
Originally, the Stones considered setting up in a permanent location, the way laser-tag or paintball operations do. But since KeriAnn is still a student and money is sometimes tight — and since they weren’t entirely sure how much demand there would be for the venture — they chose to become a portable entity instead.
To date, they’ve hosted conflicts at community centres, church auditoriums and school gyms. (Because some of the sponge darts can travel as far as 25 metres, all events are held indoors to avoid losing ammo and/or nailing innocent passersby.) And the Stones say it’s not just youngsters waging war with one another; in July, Scott and KeriAnn packed up their armoury and drove to Manitou to take part in a high school reunion for Nellie McClung Collegiate’sclass of 1995.
"We are trying to promote ourselves to the older crowd, too," says Scott, an "IT guy" who grew up in England and has fond memories of playing with potato guns when he was his son’s age. "Even at kids’ birthday parties, the parents will start off hanging around on the sidelines but before long, a lot of them are grabbing guns and becoming part of the action themselves."
The Stones offer a variety of packages. Cost is based on how long gettogethers are scheduled to run and what type of blasters customers are interested in. (Get this: next month, Hasbro plans to to introduce a new line of shooters called Rivals that will have the ability to fire foam bullets at — ouch! — over 110 km/hr.) If a person rents Dartpocalypse’s services for an hour, that generally provides enough time to play as many as six different games, KeriAnn says. Each comes with its own set of dos and don’ts, but because the Stones don’t want to be responsible for lost or broken weapons, players aren’t permitted to enter the fray with their own toy guns, she adds.
"One of the other things we don’t want is kids being ‘out’ after they’ve been shot. So what we tell them is if you get hit, you only have to leave the playing area for 10 seconds and then you’re allowed back in," says KeriAnn, talking loud enough to be heard over AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill,
Dartpocalypse’s unofficial anthem. "And sure, sometimes there’s a bit of ‘I-got-you,’ ‘No-you-didn’t’ that goes on, but Scott and I are usually on the floor refereeing to make sure everybody follows the rules."
As for Harder’s earlier description of Dartpocalypse being "pure genius," well, that also applies to the final activity kids partake in before they head out the door.
"At the end of the session, we have a little game called ‘Pick Up All the Darts,’ " KeriAnn says with a chuckle.
If you think running around a sweaty gym firing a Nerf gun for 60 minutes isn’t a good workout, think again. Krysten Callina is the founder of a Nerf-war league in the United States. Callina started the circuit in 2012 as a way to get her own two sons "off the couch."
"Both of my kids had tried every type of team sport but they just weren’t interested in any of them," Callina says when reached at home in Somerset, Mass. "Neither one likes to run and my younger son was getting a little bit chubby, so I really wanted to get them into something where they could get some cardio exercise. They loved Nerf guns and I’d seen another group set up a Nerf war at a park so I thought ‘Maybe?’ " Callina approached the owner of an indoor soccer facility in her neighbourhood. He was immediately receptive to the idea.
"About 20 kids showed up to the first one we did, but it’s really grown since then. In fact, the last time we ran it, we had over 100 (kids)," Callina says, noting she decided to run the league indoors because "even though it doesn’t get as cold here as where you are, we do get a lot of snow in the winter time."
Callina’s sons are now 13 and 16 — and in better shape than they were three years ago — but they still look forward to Nerf-war night, she says.
"The big thing now is zombie games, where we turn all the lights off and provide the kids with flashlights," she says. "There’s a really great picture on our Facebook page of a cute little girl with a tutu on, running around in the dark, shooting at all the boys."