Controversy swirls during first week of Assassins game

Erin Fox, Managing Editor

It’s been only a few days since the annual game Assassins began for more than 200 Cal High seniors, but controversy is already swirling on campus with school administrators and in the game among its participants.

Principal Sarah Wondolowski sent an email to parents on Thursday referring to the game as “very dangerous” and “frightening.”  Wondolowski stressed that the game is not affiliated with Cal and can’t be played on campus. She discouraged students from participating in the game, where students are assigned targets to “assassinate” by shooting them with foam darts from Nerf guns.

Each team of two students pays $20 to participate. They are eliminated from the game if they are shot, or fail to shoot their targets within a specified time.

According to Wondolowski’s email, the San Ramon police Department had been called twice earlier in the week by Cal students “who were frightened by other participants in the game.”

School administrators were not available for further comment.

Since Wondolowski’s email to parents on Thursday, police have been contacted at least once more. Senior Greg Light announced to his first period statistics class Friday morning that he was hiding behind his target’s car earlier that morning and someone called the police on him. He said he didn’t get into trouble after speaking to the officer.

According to the Cal Assassins 2015 Twitter account – @calassassins, which is run by the game’s organizers known as godfathers – seniors playing the game shouldn’t call police because it “DRAWS WAY TOO MUCH UNWANTED ATTENTION TO THE GAME.” The godfathers warned that “[The police] ARE ALREADY PLANNING ON GOING TO [Wondolowski on Thursday]”.

“I just made it a very strict rule to not get the cops involved ‘cause, I mean, I feel like cops have better things to do than to worry about people complaining about this game,” said senior Ian Lillard, the godfather.  “Plus, it gives negative attention to this game that is just for fun.”

Senior Anthony Epshteyn started out as a co-godfather, but he has since dropped out of his role. Lillard said Epshteyn dropped out of his godfather position because of the time commitment and, as a result, he will not be receiving his compensation, which would have been about $250. The godfathers usually keep about 25 percent of the pot, which is about $2,000 this year, according to the Cal Assassins 2015 Twitter account.

But senior Osaru Ona posted a screenshot to Twitter of a text message conversation another senior assassin had with Epshteyn before he left his position as godfather.

The senior assassin initiated the conversation with Epshteyn, saying that he and other people “are a bit dissappointed (sic) [that Epshteyn] showed [senior Matt Haworth] some peoples (sic) targets. Seems a bit corrupt.”

Epshteyn responded in the text to the student that Haworth isn’t playing the game and should “f**k off.” Epshteyn later admitted in the text conversation that he only showed Haworth “legit 5 teams.”

Lillard said Epshteyn only had the names of five different teams. Lillard said he was the only person that has the list of all of the players’ names and their targets.

A new Twitter status was posted Thursday night, proclaiming a new rule: “Trying to make a deal with a godfather to help you in the game will default in immediate disqualification.”

There have been other new rules and rule clarifications posted on the Twitter account, which switched from public to private on Wednesday. Only the 180 followers can now read tweets.

But the controversy surrounding the potential abuse of power by the godfathers is not the only thing that has players concerned. Bribery has been apparent within the game, with assassins offering to pay cash to both players and non-players for information about their targets.

“One of my assassins skipped his fifth period class to find out where I was parked,” said senior participant Jack Mermod. “I also heard that they paid someone for my partner’s address.”

Senior Ruby Boyle, who is not playing Assassins, said that a male classmate offered her money to help him assassinate his targets.

“He just wanted information in general about where the houses were located…I didn’t want to get involved,” said Boyle, noting the player offered her upwards of $30.

When asked if there will be a future rule clarification regarding the prohibition of monetary transaction between two players, Lillard said that he was unaware that bribery was apparent within the game until that moment.

“I feel like paying someone for something should not be allowed,” he said.

San Ramon police became involved in the game when they were called twice early in the week. Senior Shalaka Phadnis called police Wednesday afternoon when some students blocked her car with their vehicles, and then sat on the hood of her car so she couldn’t drive away. Phadnis said she was harassed by a group a students, including the two who were trying to “assassinate” her, and they wouldn’t let her drive away, so she called police.

“It had gone too far,” Phadnis said. “It’s a game, so you don’t need to harass me.

“The officer was pissed because he had already done this the night before, so I wasn’t the only one,” Phadnis continued.  “Someone else had called the police the night before, on Tuesday night.”

Phadnis said the students damaged her car when several of them sat on her hood.

“Later on that evening, my car broke down,” Phadnis said. “I called AAA to open my hood and fix the battery. [The mechanic] couldn’t open the hood. He had to pry it open, because it was damaged, ‘cause they sat on it.”

Senior Ashton Lubarsky, who was trying to assassinate Phadnis when her car was blocked, felt it was an overreaction to have the police involved.

“[The police officer] just like told us how since we boxed her in, that we could’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony if she felt threatened, and that we should find a safer way of letting off stress our senior year.”

Because of this incident, Lubarsky and her partner, Darrah Cooper, are unsure if they want to continue playing the game if they advance to the second round.

“I don’t know if we’re going to play,” Lubarsky said, “But hopefully the ones that make it to the second round, [do] not call the cops.”

Other senior students have voiced their dissatisfaction with this year’s game.

“I’ve been looking forward to playing assassins since freshman year, but I was disappointed once I actually got to play,” said Mermod. “My partner and I basically paid $20 to sit in our cars and stare at a house for six hours.”

Californian editors Sabine Hrkalovich, Sam Gershik, and Austin Hille contributed to this story.