Spotlight in Sports: LARP is Life
The Southern Tier is home to a wide variety of individuals seeking to escape reality, but every Sunday at Recreation Park there's a handful that succeed in bringing the realm of fantasy to Binghamton, the fellowship of Amtgard.
Dozens of costumed marauders, wood-elves with bows, and sword swinging heroes call Rec Park, Two Rivers Point, the home of Live-Action-Role-Playing (LARP) enthusiasts.
"Some people go to the club, some people read a book...this is our release," said Brett Merrell, Harpursville.
Occasionally, people passing by will gather on the outskirts of a LARP battlefield and look on in wonder of what is happening around them. And although a handful of hecklers may try to tear down the wall between fantasy and reality, the realm of Amtgard does not engage disbelievers, instead they welcome everyone to experience their world.
"There's always going to be people that say, 'Lets make fun of the geeks.' But usually we're like, 'You think we're nerds? Come play with us and I'm sure you'll have fun,'" said Joshawa Roe, Binghamton.
But Amtgard is not just an organization that finds mythical quests to complete, they have invented their own styles of sports as well. Of course swords, shields, and an imagination is key to play, the game of "Tree Ball" is a combination between Dungeons and Dragons, and Rugby (with more sword action than in the traditional sports).
"All you need is two trees and a ball," said Hunter Parise, the Baron of Amtgard. He explained, Tree Ball involves a point system, best to three points, and two trees. One team controls possession of a ball, while trying to reach the opposing tree, unscathed, to score. "Teams can use their weapons to stop, dismember, or kill the opposing team."
Sounds violent? Not really. Thanks to protective gear and foam laced weapons, all regulated through an elected referee, players walk away from the field fully intact.
And when many of these men and women tried the game for the first time, they instantly fell in love with the sport of LARP.
"I fell in love with the people, with the culture. You know, I fell in love with the game," said Bella Sweet, Harpursville.
Some Amtgard characters travel from SUNY Cortland just to reunite with fellow LARPers. Cara Fiacco, a college student, said she's been participating in LARP for years. And ever since the sport has become more mainstream, she's seen a steady influx of players from different backgrounds that share similar interests...and a feeling of acceptance.
"They have real lives outside of [LARP] they're doctors, they're lawyers, students. We're more than just nerds with foam swords...we're friends," said Fiacco.
If you want to take part in the quests of Amtgard, or are just curious about LARP, the men and women of Recreation Park said they are more than happy to share any information they have on the sport. They regularly meet every Sunday at Rec Park, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.