OCEAN CITY – Volunteers and officials held a ceremony this week to kick off the 30th year of Play It Safe in Ocean City.
On Tuesday, state representatives, resort and community leaders and volunteers gathered at the Boardwalk to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Play It Safe, a yearly program that encourages recent high school graduates to celebrate responsibly in Ocean City without the use of alcohol or drugs.
Each year, the Play It Safe program offers roughly 40 free events to high school graduates visiting Ocean City during the months of May and June. Since 1989, the initiative has grown to include activities such as paddle boarding, karaoke, beach volleyball tournaments, scavenger hunts and more.
“I think today, more than ever, this program is so important,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “The challenges high school graduates face today I think are even more difficult than they were 30 years ago. For us to remain committed and provide opportunities for them to enjoy Ocean City in a drug- and alcohol-safe atmosphere is commendable.”
The Play It Safe Program is coordinated by the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee, the Worcester County Health Department and the Town of Ocean City.
Each year, the committee develops the events and provides Play It Safe booklets, while various resort agencies – including the police, public works, transportation and recreation departments – provide the safety, space, staffing, equipment and bus service.
Since 1995, the town has appropriated supplemental funding for the Play It Safe program, according to the Play It Safe website. In addition, more than 300 Ocean City community members, businesses and civic organizations have donated money, prizes and food to the initiative.
“That’s what makes it a success,” Delegate Wayne Hartman said, “the partnerships between the volunteers and the generous businesses that we have here.”
State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza also noted the lasting impacts the Play It Safe program could have on participating graduates.
“We are planting the seeds for these seniors to come back throughout their lives and maybe eventually move down here,” she said. “What you do in this timeframe will really have a lasting impact … We really want to keep this a family resort, and this is one way you are doing that.”
Donna Greenwood, chair of the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee, said the program first started with a Play It Safe booklet, which featured safety information and coupons from local businesses. However, the initiative soon grew to include beach and sports activities.
“We did one event and then a couple more and then a couple more after that …,” she said. “It ultimately boiled down to a lot of miniature golf and sports and beach events.”
In 1991, approximately 350 graduates attended three Play It Safe activities. In 2018, that number grew to 6,000 participants and more than 40 free events.
“It’s all about keeping the kids safe,” Greenwood said. “This is the first time most of these kids have ever been away from home on their own, and they are the ones who are going to be making the decisions. Our hope is that they will make good ones.”
This year’s Play It Safe program begins May 29 and runs through June 14. During that time, graduates will have the opportunity to participate in any of the 46 free events throughout the resort.
For more information, visit playitsafeoceancity.com or the Play It Safe Ocean City Facebook page.
“When our graduates come here and go home safe, that’s what it’s all about,” Hartman said.