“Paranoia” Stirs Community-Wide Controversy


Graphic by Kailey Albus

Students are using Snapchat’s location tracker as their primary resource for finding their enemy team. Will it all come to an end given the recent turmoil?

Kailey Albus, Editor-In-Chief

A traditionally celebratory start to a beloved senior privilege turned tense over the weekend, sparking a community-wide discussion on the safety of the “Paranoia” Nerf battle.

The Lake Bluff Police Department said there were complaints of reckless driving, stray Nerf bullets, and general disruptions in neighborhoods and other public venues. In response, the department took to Facebook, calling for changes to the “senior prank.”

“What may have started as an innocent impromptu Nerf gun battle between students in vehicles may not seem like that to residents or the police when things get out of hand, which is where it started heading,” read the post. 

The LBPD followed up their announcement with an alternative solution.

“Maybe this summer we have Officers vs Students in a controlled environment Nerf game, loser buys pizza?”

The post quickly gained traction among the senior class, with students both offering suggestions and mocking the author for their replacement offer.

Senior John Atzeff was blunt: “You couldn’t pay me to go to that alternate event.”

While his comment received 28 “likes,” Atzeff quickly found himself in a battle of wits with the LBPD, who responded, “@John Atzeff no need to worry, we won’t pay.”

“I tried not to get involved, but that [exchange] was kind of hilarious,” said senior Emily Bertram.

This year, 29 teams of seniors are competing for the gold: a cash prize collected from each of the participating groups. Players must stalk and shoot their adversaries with Nerf guns, while maintaining a respect for the “safe zones”, the competitor’s families, and the neighborhoods they play in. 

The title “Paranoia” stems from the spontaneity of the game, as students are expected to keep their eyes on the enemy and their hands on a toy weapons. A tradition six years in the making at LFHS, the tournament takes on different forms at other neighboring schools: Libertyville plays with squirt guns, Vernon Hills dubs it “Senior Assassins,” and New Trier continues their game despite the years of controversy that came before.

Matthew Smizinski, Deputy Police Chief of the LBPD, noted that the post did not come from a desire to ruin senior traditions. 

“We want [the seniors] to have their fun,” he said, “but when there are safety concerns that come to our attention, we try to be proactive.”

We want [the seniors] to have their fun, but when there are safety concerns that come to our attention, we try to be proactive.

— Matthew Smizinski

Smizinski added that events involving the community have to be met with approval from those affected, whether directly or indirectly.

“When we’re able to do community things, like our annual hot dog roast, we do those after making sure they fit and align with the community itself,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to be the case with this year’s Paranoia.” 

Senior Callan Shanahan commented that reckless driving is inexcusable, but perhaps neighborhood concerns could be alleviated through “communicating the nature of the game to [those] who may not understand the tradition.”

“I think that if we continue to communicate these rules and keep our community informed, we can keep playing safely,” she said. 

Shanahan’s post received a total of 31 reactions, with one community member commending her for the “well said” input before offering a rebuttal. 

“Unfortunately,” continued Emily Campbell Venson, “like texting and driving, participating in any activity while driving that’s not intended for the car can cause drivers to be distracted.”

Venson did not respond to a request for further comment.

The LBPD made it clear that they would listen to concerned seniors and community members if they chose to visit the station in person. 

Students and spectators question how influential the message will actually be, with one commenter noting that the game was continuing in her neighborhood two days after the post was initially made.

“There’s no way it’s not going to continue,” said senior Mary Clayton, who decided to not join a team for this year’s tournament. “I’ve seen so many of my friends wielding nerf guns and strategizing their plans of attack. I think it was good that the police addressed the illegal activity, but I’m hoping the tradition can carry on as normal with this added reminder of safety in place.”

Senior LK Carr was “surprised” that some combative community members were unaware that Paranoia would be taking place this year.

“Everyone knew this was coming, and it’s not like it’s a new event,” she said.

Carr continued, highlighting the devastation that may ensue as a result of the game’s cancellation. 

“We’ve had so many senior traditions robbed from us, and we’ve still been trying to make the most of the year while we can.” 

“I just want to be able to play Paranoia without having to get the police involved,” said senior Josca Schabaker. “We all know what we signed up for. The game is inevitably going to get intense at times, and I’d rather just move on from this incident and keep that in mind for next time.”

Senior organizer Kerrigan Weston declined to comment on the issues in the post.