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The zombie apocalypse has finally arrived

By APRILL BRANDON
Dec. 12, 2010 at 6:12 a.m.

"I love being a zombie," Ismael Gutierres, center, says about playing "Zombies," a complicated version of tag that incorporates Nerf guns and missions. The 25-year-old, along with friends James Nelson, 27, left, and Jon Tonko, 20, right, are joined by more than 30 teens and young adults every Saturday at Ethel Lee Tracy Park in Victoria to participate in the humans vs. zombies game.

IF YOU GOIf you'd like to get in on the "Zombie" action,

When: The game begins every Saturday starting about 2:30 p.m.

Where: Ethel Lee Tracy Park. Cost: Playing is free, and everyone is welcome to join.

For more information: Go to www.apocalypse-city.com.

It was an otherwise beautiful Saturday afternoon in Ethel Lee Tracy Park last weekend.

The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The zombies were attacking.

Oh, yes, you read that right.

Zombies took over Ethel Lee Tracy Park. And they do so every Saturday starting from about 2:30 to 9 p.m.

No need to worry too much about the impending undead apocalypse, however. "Zombies," as it's called among the players, is actually a large-scale game involving Nerf guns and other Nerf weapons that has increasingly become popular among young adults in the area.

"It's basically an overcomplicated game of tag," one of the founders of "Zombies," Jon Tonko, 20, said. "It's fun, and it can be played in the city, unlike paint ball. People love it because, well, what's more American than killing zombies?"

The game, which is also sometimes referred to as Apocalypse City, began like how so many others things do: out of sheer boredom. One day, Tonko and a group friends were messing around with a Nerf gun and then, BOOM. The idea for the game was born; it now averages anywhere from 30 players up to 70 ranging in age from tweens to 20-somethings.

"We had no idea this would catch on," Tonko added. "We were just a group of friends goofing around on a Saturday night, but now it's a full-out game that takes up the whole park. We have all sorts of ages joining us, and all we ask of our younger members is that they talk to their parents first and get their permission before they play."

For Ishmael Gutierres, 25, one of the leaders of "Zombies," the game is more than just a group of young adults role-playing an apocalyptic zombies vs. humans scenario with foam bullets. It's also a grass-roots effort by local young adults to give some much needed, free and wholesome fun to Victoria youth.

"I've had kids come up to me and tell that they look forward to this all week. Others have told me that they work hard to get good grades so their parents will continue to let them play," Gutierres said. "That's why I do this."

The basic rules of the game are simple, although there are more complicated versions that the group will play from time to time. Players are split into two teams of zombies and survivors. If zombies tag a survivor, they, too, turn into a zombie. The survivors try to ward off zombies with their Nerf guns; if a zombie gets hit by a Nerf bullet, they have to freeze for a couple of seconds. If they get hit in the head, they are considered dead but come back to life after awhile because, well, they're already undead, Tonka explained.

Because of the increasing popularity of the game, Gutierres is now trying to make it an official club and attempting to find sponsors, he said. Already the group has a website, www.apocalypse-city.com. There has also been a Humans vs. Zombies club recently started at Liberty Academy by 18-year-old Jake Flores, who is a regular on Saturdays, that is open to students at East and West high schools as well.

"No one can get hurt. You use foam weapons. It's safe, fun and anyone can enjoy playing," Flores said. "I've been playing for about a year now and the first time I played, even though I thought it was going to be pretty lame, by the time I went home, I told my parents 'I must get a Nerf gun!'"

But no matter what happens or how big it grows, two things will never change, Gutierres said.

"It's free, and it's fun. We will never charge to play and even have loaner guns and bullets for people who don't have any equipment," he said, adding that small donations to help maintain the website are welcome. "People love Nerf. It makes you feel like a kid again. Not to mention, this makes for great exercise. I've lost five pounds playing."

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