OCEAN CITY — In an early summer marred somewhat by two tragic pedestrian deaths, one bright, shining example of doing things the right way continues to be the Play It Safe program, which concluded Tuesday after three weeks of providing safe alternatives for thousands of June Bugs that swarmed into the resort.
For 23 years, the Play It Safe program has provided free, safe, supervised, organized and perhaps most importantly alcohol-free alternatives for the thousands of high school teens who chose to celebrate their graduation in Ocean City. For the last three weeks, over 8,600 teens played volleyball, dodge ball, basketball, miniature golf, and numerous other sports. They raced kayaks, went windsurfing, did rock climbing and played paintball and laser tag.
With so many other less safe alternatives available to teens visiting the beach, many away from the parents and supervision for the first time, Play It Safe again this year achieved the desired goal the name of the program portrays.
“Overall, it was another great year for the program,” said Play It Safe Director Donna Greenwood. “We added a bunch of new events and activities and I think the kids really enjoyed them. It’s always nice to hear the kids express their appreciation and it makes us feel good because we know we’re making a difference.”
In 1989, then Governor William Donald Schaefer asked then Mayor Roland Powell to set up a committee to fight the abuse of alcohol and drugs in the resort community and the result was the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee. Borne out of that early committee was the idea for the Play It Safe program. In the two-plus decades since, the committee has partnered with the town of Ocean City, the Recreation and Parks Department, the Worcester County Health Department, the Department of Juvenile services and numerous schools and community organizations to provide fun, safe and free alternatives for the thousands of teens that flock to the beach each summer.
With so many tragic incidents involving teens over the years, including a couple of pedestrian fatalities this year alone, the program’s validity is even more pronounced than ever.
“This summer has been so tragic already with a rash of accidents and deaths, and the saddest thing is, they are so preventable,” said Greenwood. “By providing these supervised and safe events, we feel like we’re making a difference. We had thousands of kids participating in our events, kids that might otherwise find other alternatives.”
County Health Department staffer and Play It Safe coordinator Lois Twilley said this week the program’s events attracted 8,620 kids this year, down from the 11,000 plus last year. However, one of the Splash Mountain events, typically one of the largest draws, was postponed and a handful of other events were scrapped because of bad weather. Twilley agreed the program’s importance was more pronounced this year.
“In light of what’s happened already this summer, I think it illustrated more than ever just how important this program is,” she said.
After 23 years, the program is attracting a second generation of participants as many are children of parents who enjoyed Play It Safe when they were teens. Already, plans for next year’s program are in the works with a steering committee meeting set for today. The program’s website also has a countdown clock ticking down the days and hours until the kickoff of the 2013 event.
“It really is a year-round thing,” said Twilley. “It never ends. We don’t start seriously planning events for next year until the fall, but we’re already brainstorming for new ideas and lining up sponsors and everything else that goes into this.”