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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Two flags over Palo Alto Two flags over Palo Alto (July 16, 2003)

Street game attracting Midpeninsula youths

by Rachel Metz

At 10 on a summery night in downtown Palo Alto, most stores are dark but the night is just beginning for a group of about 30 local teenagers gathered to play capture-the-flag.

"It's fun, it's exciting," Danny Mitchell, an incoming Gunn High School senior, said. "It heightens your sense running around an actual city area. ... There's so much action downtown."

Every Sunday night at 9:30 they gather outside of Pizza My Heart in downtown Palo Alto, geared up for another fast-paced game. Running, jumping and sneaking through alleys, dark streets and dimly-lit parking lots are de rigueur and nobody seems to mind. In fact, they rather like it.

"I think it's a nice, non-academic challenge for people. You can just run out there and have a good time," David Huck, one of the night's captains, said.

Games during the year tend to be bigger, but the summer games are still strong. On Sunday night the two teams played two games spanning about an hour and a half.

After a brief introduction from the two team captains -- everybody already knew the rules, so a reiteration wasn't necessary -- the teams split. The red team moved toward the parking lot behind Mac's Smoke Shop, the blue team toward the parking lot behind Border's.

The rules are simple. Players gather into two teams, each with a flag. The objective is to snatch the other team's flag without getting tagged. If a player is tagged while in another team's territory, that player waits in jail until one of their teammates manages to sneak over and rescue them. In the end, only one team can win.

"Whether you win or lose you're chasing people , you're tagging people," Huck said.

After the first game, red and blue switched sides, maintaining their neutral zone at Centennial Walk and boundaries of Alma Street, Border's and Hamilton and University avenues.

The weekly games began last summer, organized, in part by Gunn students Grayson DeJesus and Daniel Moyer.

At first, they played at Gunn. Flanked by darkness, kids scurried around on Sunday nights, plotting strategies and skirting around empty buildings in efforts to emerge victorious with the opposing team's flag. Soon, Moyer said, the police came and asked the players to leave, so the game moved downtown.

In a bid for legitimacy and games on campus, they formed a school club. DeJesus is president.

"Basically the idea was if we had a club we could go back to Gunn and it would be a legitimate thing and it would be a school-sponsored thing," Moyer said.

Unfortunately, the students were still not allowed to play on campus, probably because it was an unauthorized activity on private property, Brad Zook, patrol captain with the Palo Alto Police Department, said.

"As long as they don't cause a problem or create something that looks like a problem, we don't have a problem. We would like that if we see somebody that might be involved in some type of criminal activity that if we ask them to stop they do stop and forgo the game," Zook said.

It would be easy enough to play capture-the-flag on a flat field in broad daylight, but as the teenagers discovered, downtown's obstacles and moonlight add a sense of danger and excitement.

"There's more places you can use. Plus when there's people around it's more interesting -- when you can hide behind people who are walking down the street when you're on the other side," Sophie Aung, an incoming Gunn senior, said.

During the year, the players gathered on Sunday nights when there was no school the following Monday. The games began attracting more and more enthusiasts, including kids from all over the Peninsula.

David Huck, an incoming Gunn senior, said players come from Gilroy and Belmont just for a night of capture-the-flag. He said there are track kids, students from Los Altos, Menlo-Atherton and Palo Alto high schools.

"It's become much more a cross-social group game in many regards. You get to meet a lot of people you wouldn't normally meet," he said.

Kate Kosco, an incoming Gunn junior, has been playing for about six months. Kosco said she's met kids from other schools and from Gunn through capture-the-flag.

And, she said, "it adds something to do on a Sunday night."

Rachel Metz can be e-mailed at [email protected]


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