Vienna field transformed into scene of Medieval combat

VIENNA – Drive along Jackson Memorial Park road in Vienna, near the ballfields, on a Sunday afternoon and you might notice people wielding “swords.”

The combatants, dressed in Medieval garb, also are throwing objects as they run around the grassy field behind the Vienna Recreation Sports Center off 34th Street.

The action has caught the attention of Vienna police officers, who have stopped to watch.

The scene is all in good fun as participants in the international organization Amtgard act out Medieval and fantasy combat sports and recreation.

“Valley of Smoke,” the Amtgard group based in Parkersburg, meets 1 p.m. every Sunday to do battle – and have some fun. The local group was formed in June 2012.

Participants use foam-padded “boffer weapons” – made of PVC pipe, bamboo or fiberglass – during the class combat. Swords made of wood or metal are not allowed. Boffer weapons are checked each week.

The objects being thrown at combatants are soft “spell balls” – loose rubber bands wrapped in cloth.

It is safe combat, said Gretchen Richards, 31, of Lubeck, who has participated in Amtgard for seven years, in a Charleston group and for two months in Parkersburg.

“We have a lot of fun,” Richards said. “It’s a good time. There’s a lot of laughter.”

Hitting a person’s head is not allowed. Just the limbs and torso.

Wayne Jenkins, 35, who teaches world history at Parkersburg High School, said Amtgard gets children and adults out in the sunshine, moving around and away from the television.

They play rain or shine, and in the snow.

“It is fun. You don’t have to be good at it,” Jenkins said.

The organization has been around for 30 years, Richards said.

Eight members of “Valley of Smoke” participated on a warm, humid Sunday. Water breaks were welcome.

Up to 32 people – 14 years old and above – have joined in the fun at times. The average number of participants in the summer is 17.

The live action role-playing games last from about five minutes to 30 minutes.

Each team in Sunday’s class battle had 25 “lives.” The battle ended when a team ran out of “lives.”

Richards mentioned “Capture the Flag”, “Ring the Bell” and “Kill the King” as some of the dozes of games available to Amtgard participants.

Participants make their own weapons and outfits and are called by character names when playing.

For those who do not like combat or want other activities, arts and crafts of all types are part of Amtgard, including cooking, painting, sewing, rug making and woodworking.

Christian Krinock, 14, who attends VanDevender Middle School, said he enjoys the entire aspect of Amtgard. He saw his brother Eddie, 17, a senior at Parkersburg High School, playing the game and wanted to join.

Eddie said the organization has helped him and Christian “bond as brothers.”

Sept. 1 was the first day for Madison Ruppenthal, 14, a freshman at PHS, playing with the group. She lives near the Krinocks.

“I think it is fun,” Ruppenthal said.

Members of “Valley of Smoke” are attending Amtgard’s “Feast of the Dead” camp in Hagerstown, Md., from Sept. 13-15.

“I have made friends all over (by participating in Amtgard),” Jenkins said.

Richards said she has friends in Florida, Wisconsin and other states through the program.

Ryan Full, a Spanish teacher at PHS, was playing the part of the healer on Sunday, because of a knee injury. He and Jenkins are the advisers for the Amtgard club at PHS, which is open to any student and meets after school on Wednesdays.

Amtgard is an activity where parents can participate with their children – by either helping or playing, Full said.

Ted Cwikiel, 38, of Parkersburg said he enjoys Amtgard because it allows him to run around and “blow off steam.”

The group appreciates the Vienna Parks and Recreation Department keeping the field mowed and offering other assistance.

New members are welcome to stop by on Sundays to participate in the games, which are free, Richards said.