Water Assassins flooded with controversy, again

McClenahan: ‘I want students to have full and complete, fun lives, but that has to be done in a way that’s safe’

On April 20, 2022, Oak Park High School Principal Mat McClenahan, subbing for AP Macroeconomics teacher Timothy Chevalier, spoke to the class of seniors about the long-standing tradition of Water Assassins, a student-run game that found its source in 2015.

“[Your class] has had the most difficult four school years of anybody in 100 years. I’m so proud of you that you’re here, that you guys have kept on,” said McClenahan to the class. “You don’t want to toss it away so you can squirt somebody.”

Just 30 minutes later, the official @ophs.waterassassins22 Instagram account announced a change in plans: “We are switching organizers of Water Assassins. Ceasefire until Friday. New OFFICIAL AND FINAL rules will be announced.”

Water Assassins is not new to controversy. In the past, organizers’ money-handling has been called into question, community members have been left frightened and school administration was forced to intervene and drop this game for the 2019 school year. 

Alumna Audrey Farnsworth was determined to reestablish this game in 2020, but it was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the proceeds were donated to Feed America. 

When the game made its long-awaited debut in the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year (run by alumnae Solana Moye and Ally Adamski), an 18-page manifesto was linked in the Water Assassins Instagram account bio, delineating the rules and regulations of this game. This year, 6 pages were linked.

“Originally [the game] was supposed to be started way before,” said a volunteer organizer for this year’s Water Assassins, who wished to remain anonymous. “But when spring break came around, we just sort of forgot about it, and it was a rush to get everything done … and get it organized in a timely fashion.”

While rule-makers experienced some trouble in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Water Assassins, players of the game, too, had more than one problematic incident.

“After my [tennis] game, we were in the bus, rolled up the windows to the bus and sprinted to our cars, and one person almost crashed,” said senior Charlie Kennedy. “There’s no structure to it … other years were better for sure.”

Another student described a second incident, yet again involving cars.

“This kid pulled up, tried blocking someone’s open door, so he could get him out … and [the “assassin”] tried jamming the door shut and dented [the other student’s] car,” said another senior, who wishes to remain anonymous.

In response to an incident involving students playing Water Assassins in the Oak Park High School library parking lot, shots taking place in school parking lots have been rendered null by the organizers in accordance with administrative rules, and stricter regulations have been applied to the Revised Rules document. Several students have since been “revived” if their “kill” was on campus, including in the parking lot. The game, according to the student-run Instagram, will resume at 2:25 p.m. on April 22.

In a follow-up interview, McClenahan — upon whose desk sat three confiscated water guns — said, “Water Assassins, as long as I am here, will never be an Oak Park High School [-run or -affiliated] event … I don’t like it, but you guys are not my children. You guys have to live your lives and make good decisions.”

Under state law and Oak Park High School Board Policy 5131.7(a): “The Board prohibits any student from possessing weapons, imitation firearms, or dangerous instruments as defined in law and administrative regulation, in school buildings, on school grounds or buses, or at a school-related or school-sponsored activities away from school, or while going to or coming from school.

“What you and the [recent] classes before you have gone through is frankly unimaginable to me … I can’t put myself in the place that you guys have been through,” said McClenahan. “So when I say I want you to have fun, I desperately want you guys to have fun, but I don’t want you to have fun in a way that’s going to have unintended, long-term consequences for you and other people.”