Senior William Schmidt sees an opportunity.
Squished together on a wooden bridge crossing a small pond, he and his clan, the Dark Riders, are at a standstill against the opposing clan, the Storm Shields. At first, the Dark Riders and their allies, the Bjørn Rike, had ferociously charged and literally jumped on their opponents, a massive dogpile becoming the new strategy. But after a few minutes, it fizzled down to some weak jabs between some spears and shields – well, PVC pipe and old sleds.
There needs to be a winner though, so to spur the action again, Schmidt decided to climb over the bridge railing and attempt to leap to the island, a maneuver senior and ally John Arnspiger just completed.
Schmidt swings his leg over the railing and gets into place on the thin ledge. If he misses the bank, it’s a cold, muddy bath on a 52 degree day at Shawnee Mission Park’s Shelter 2, but he takes the risk and launches.
With his homemade kilt flapping in the wind, his bare feet land in the mud. But he doesn’t even have time to lift his sword before two enemy Storm Shields slaughter him. Schmidt falls to the ground, then sits up and laughs.
“If I’m going to die, I’m dying in style,” Schmidt said.
No wimpy deaths on this battlefield.
Schmidt is in the midst of an intense LARP battle between 42 boys. LARP, or Live Action Role Play, is a game of sorts, where people gather with homemade weapons to battle to the “death.”
Let’s be real: it’s not a common sight. One time a couple on a walk stopped and turned their date into a LARP-watching session for 10 minutes.
But the boys agree that literally none of them care if they make a fool of themselves. They don’t do it so they can dress up like it’s the Renaissance Festival, but because it’s adrenaline-filled and fun. They can mess around, spear their friends for a few hours, laugh about it, then go back to normal – no judgment at all.
And the idea, which was born after a Game of Thrones-watching session at senior Clayton Phillips’ house with seniors Logan Cleaver and Ryan Kahle, is not just a trend. It’s now a $200 investment for Kahle and about $100 for Phillips – the materials for the weapons cost some money.
But they’re worth it. PVC pipes get painstakingly covered in PVC insulation and pool noodles to create spears and swords. Old sleds turn into shields – senior Jack Griswold uses a Vineyard Vines belt for his shield handle. Arrow points get new foam guards. And duct tape, team colors of course, keeps it all together.
Each clan — so far there’s five — has their own elder. The elders are the almighty leaders: Kahle, Logan, Phillips, senior John Arnspiger and KCC senior Louie Wrablica. Kahle, Logan and Phillips are the original inventors, but Phillips got the idea two years ago from two then-seniors Will Reimer and Will Fenimore. LARP isn’t a new phenomenon, but East had never experienced it before.
So far, they’ve had three battles, two at Shawnee Mission Park and one at Loose Park.
The most recent battle — March 26 — was the biggest yet. As the warriors slowly appeared in their carpools, they pulled out a speaker to blast “Seven Nation Army.” Then some practiced dueling while others checked weapon inventories and planned out strategies. Once everyone arrived and had assembled into their clans, Dark Rider senior Parker Shirling called to the others to signal the start of the battle – then they charged.
Some boys go in full sprint, like senior Jack Griswold, whose face scrunches way up as he flies across the grass, shield in one hand, sword in the other, plastic gray helmet bouncing up and down. Others hang back then circle around for a surprise hit.
“It’s utter chaos,” Shirling said.
From the very beginning, Phillips, Kahle and Cleaver knew they would have to take LARP fairly seriously if they wanted it to stick.
“With something like this, you have to be all in, you have to be sold and completely in character,” Phillips said.
Kahle made a Constitution — a six-page Google Doc — which fully breaks down all the rules regarding weapons, alliances and even how an execution would take place. At the last battle, Phillips was executed after losing a one-on-one duel to sophomore Luke Cleaver. Phillips wielded not only a sword but a sort of Thor-esque hammer too, yet couldn’t compete with Luke’s multi-pronged, weapon extraordinaire. Phillips knelt down in a circle of boys, and the victor beheaded him. As Philips fell to the ground, the surrounding circle of boys went from silent to boisterous cheers.
It’s deadly out there.
“I’ve bled in every LARP battle – little scratches on my arms,” Logan said. “This is not some little thing.”
Kahle agreed, laughing.
“We sacrifice our bodies,” he said.
Two skirmishes in at the most recent battle, senior Simon Bradley looked down to see blood running from his knee. Senior Eli McDonald cut his toe — he doesn’t know on what — during a swim in the muddy pond. Then a few weeks ago during the battle at Loose Park, senior Eli Kurlbaum had a PVC pipe spear snap in half on his arm, leaving an impressive bruise. He said it was tennis ball-sized and a “nice purpley-yellow.”
The boys do it again anyway – it’s fun, remember?
“No one here cares, no one judges that we’re running around hitting people with spears and swords made out of foam,” Shirling said.
The elders are still planning a way to pass on the role of elder in the summer, but they know one thing: they want LARP to last for years.
For now though, they’ll keep battling. And when they’re done, they’ll pull off their black ski masks, shed their bathrobes and hop into their cars, maybe playing “Seven Nation Army” as they drive away.