Jordan Toczylowski has survived hundreds of gunshots. It helps that they were foam bullets.
“As silly as it sounds, it is great to have some getaway that is safe, friendly, and not dangerous in public,” he says.
The 19-year-old Marion resident is a member of The Dart Dragon Army, a Cedar Rapids-based group that competes with Nerf and other foam-bullet toy guns.
The army — which started a year and a half ago and includes more than 30 people — is preparing for its first “Megawar” on Friday at Thomas Park in Marion.
“We are hoping to get other people from out of state and possibly out of country to come,” says Christian Draper, the 18-year-old founder of the Dart Dragons. “It is normally just us.”
Battles consist of various games, like “team deathmatch,” where two teams compete to shoot their opponents until only one team has unscathed members. But while foam darts — unlike paintballs — do not leave marks, Draper said his group relies on the honor system to identify who has been hit.
Last Thursday, Draper brought his army’s arsenal of plastic weaponry — which cost the group more than $500 — to Thomas Park. The orange and yellow cache covered four picnic tables, and a green ammunition case overflowed with spongy rounds.
If you go
- Where: Thomas Park in Marion by the second lot (not by the pavilions)
- When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- Games to be played: Team Juggernaut, Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, Free for All, Search and Destroy
- Details: Bring your Nerf gun (preferably N-Strike or N-Strike Elite models.)
- For more information: Contact The Dart Dragon Army at email@example.com or (319) 899-2770 (text only
“We removed the piece of plastic here and here, so it is more easy to reload,” Draper says, swinging open the barrel of a Nerf Maverick pistol, spinning it, and deftly locking it back in place. “It is the Russian roulette barrel mod.”
Modding — which refers to altering an item’s physical makeup to increase performance — is a common practice among the group, and a way for the members to personalize their arms.
“It was a lot more intense than I thought it would be; it was so much more fun,” says Sarah Kitch of Cedar Rapids, an 18-year-old member of the Dart Dragons. “Just actually being able to get up, go out and do something and have a lot of fun doing it together.”
The use of Nerf toys in competitive sports is something John Tomulonis, Nerf brand director at Hasbro, endorses.
“We always say that you’re never too old for Nerf,” he wrote in an email. “From children to college students to parents, the unbridled spirit of action and fun that the brand represents can resonate with anyone.”
He said, however, that modifications to products are not endorsed by Hasbro, and added that he would encourage users to follow all safety guidelines.
A key reason for the group’s interest in Nerf and other foam-dart weaponry stems from a 2009 city ordinance that banned the carrying of BB, air, paintball or pellet guns in public, unless they are unloaded and in a case.
The Dart Dragons wanted to used public parks for its games, and, therefore, were forced to invest in foam-dart weaponry.
For now, the group is happy to dash among the trees of Thomas Park, firing their Nerf guns. And while some may see this as adults playing with children’s toys, Draper said he hopes that skeptics fire a round before passing judgment.
“My age group of 18-plus is not typically associated with Nerf,” he says. “A lot of people would consider this childish, but what I am really hoping is that people give it a try and it will some day be as big as paintball.”
- Max Freund