Summer ‘Play It Safe’ Program Ends After 30 Years

OCEAN CITY – For three decades, Ocean City’s Play it Safe program provided fun, safe alternatives to countless recent high school graduates visiting the resort for Senior Week, but the amazing run is coming to a close.

The Play it Safe program was borne out of the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee, in coordination with the Worcester County Health Department and the Town of Ocean City. From its nascent days 30 years ago, the program provided popular programs for recent graduates visiting Ocean City in June, from beach volleyball tournaments, paddleboarding, scavenger hunts, karaoke, concerts and sock-hops and the like, all under the watchful eye of the committee and its volunteers. The town’s transportation department provided free bus passes to registered participants to safely move them around town during the events.

However, a couple of unforeseen circumstances have conspired to derail the decades-old Play it Safe program, Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee Chair Donna Greenwood said in a statement this week. For the last two summers, the program was suspended because of the pandemic and restrictions on gatherings. With the pandemic apparently waning, Greenwood said a lack of volunteers has now made the program unsustainable.

“Sadly, that came to an end in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck our nation,” she said. “We made the decision in both 2020 and 2021 to not hold our events in an abundance of caution for the grads, committee members, our partners and volunteers. Even today, there are many uncertainties about the virus and what is acceptable and what is not as far as gatherings of large groups of people.”

Greenwood said the lack of volunteers for the program was causing its demise, if not permanently, at least temporarily. She also thanked Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito and department representative Travis Davey for working on a way to somehow return the program in some shape or form in the future.

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“Our committee has dwindled to just a couple and I am the only officer left,” she said. “At this point, we do not have enough people to continue. Travis Davey and Susan Petito at the Recreation and Parks Department have been a great support and sounding board during these difficult times. For that, I am extremely grateful.”

Greenwood fondly recalled the Play it Safe program’s early days and how it grew over the years.

“When the Ocean City Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee began with Marty Pusey in the lead and Al ‘Hondo’ Handy at her side, never in our wildest imagination did we think that we could carry on this project for 30 years,” she said. “Projects of this type just did not sustain themselves for that long a period of time.”

Greenwood in the statement thanked the many volunteers who made the program possible over the years.

“To each of you who supported Play it Safe in so many different ways, I am very appreciative of all that you gave to the committee and me over all those years,” she said. “There was always so much fun and laughter at our events. The great volunteers enjoyed them as much as the graduates. We will miss that.”

Greenwood held out hope the program could return in the future and continues to work with Worcester County Health Officer Becky Jones and others on a possible solution.

“Before making this final decision, I conferred with Becky Jones at Worcester Health and Susan at the Recreation Department,” she said. “Becky contacted the Worcester County Drug Commission to see if they could pick it up, but they cannot and nor can the health department. Nothing seems feasible for this year, but it is not totally off the table. We don’t see it returning as we once knew Play it Safe, but there are other possibilities.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.