All is fair when it comes to love and Nerf warfare


The shout of “gotcha” rings out at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center garden, as one Gummybear Tactical League player scores a hit on another with a Nerf dart.

Anton Frankie Negroni is the founder of the Gummybear Foundation and it’s Gummybear Tactical League. The tactical league holds practice every Friday after school, and Negroni said days can range in attendance from 20 children to four. Children get a Nerf launcher of their choosing and protective eye gear. On smaller-group days, every child gets to wear a GoPro in a chest harness, which is mostly so Negroni can capture footage for promotions and the foundation’s website.

The structure of the hour-long session allows students to add their own creativity and often the game ends up modeling capture the flag. Negroni said he enjoys watching the children put their heads together to strategize and work in teams, a reminder to him of how smart the children are.

Last Friday, May 18, the children wanted to end the session in two teams of two. So they pair up, whisper with their teammates, strategize, and disperse throughout the garden.

In the middle of the garden is a building the kids use as protection.

Language in this game is very important to Negroni and his team. He said it’s an important distinction for both the children and him to make sure real guns and toys are not equivalents.

“We don’t use the word guns, we don’t use the word bullets, and we don’t use the word shot,” Negroni said.

Instead of shot he tells the kids to use words like tag or hit, bullets are considered ammo, and the Nerfs are referred to as equipment.

The origin story for the tactical league comes from Negroni’s time teaching and a basketball league he started.

While a preschool teacher at Bright Horizons at Riverdale, he started a for-profit basketball league. Gummy Bears were his favorite candy while he was teaching, and he would often have a handful he’d share with the kids. So when he asked them to come up with a name for the league, it wasn’t a surprise they wanted to be the Gummy Bears.

Right before the pandemic started, one of the parents of his students asked why he didn’t bring the idea further and let the neighborhood kids join.

“I kept thinking, no one opens up gyms for kids in our neighborhood. No one has space for them. I have to create it,” Negroni said.

He credits the parent with sparking the idea. While sitting at home during the pandemic, feeling isolated from everyone and forced into a more technology and screen-staring world, he decided he was going to create something that could get kids outside.

Negroni was a preschool teacher for 14 years, but he decided teaching was no longer for him, he said, when he felt he kept hitting red tape while trying to bring innovative ideas into the classroom. He left with the idea he was going to create something fun and engaging while not being held back by school curriculum.

In his brainstorming, he thought about ways to get kids outside and considered things they already enjoyed, games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, but he wanted to bring that outside, thus began the tactical league, but the Gummybear Foundation goes further, with four key principles in its outreach — recreation, education, mental health and financial literacy.

Financial literacy is important to Negroni because he knows it’s a skill children will need to know for the rest of their lives. He holds financial literacy workshops for adults and children.

Lakeisha Small is the financial strategist Negroni found to volunteer with the nonprofit to teach classes on life insurance, how to write a will, how to receive government aid for families of children with disabilites and more.

Moving forward, he’s working on bringing pop-ups to the neighborhood, with the help of Small, in order to bring the knowledge to the people rather than making them come to him.

For Negroni, this is all a labor of love. He quit his job teaching to focus on the Gummybear Foundation full-time and, as such, he must use all of the resources at his disposal to fund the work he does.

All the programs are free to the participants.

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