After-prom parties offer a safe ending Prizes: High school seniors are being wooed by all-night bowling and expensive prizes to forgo the traditional after-prom boozing and carousing.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a bid to keep teens safe and sober, Baltimore-area parents are enticing high-school seniors to elaborate after-prom parties -- and offering a dazzling array of prizes, including computers, TVs, shopping sprees and cars.

Seniors at Catonsville High School celebrated recently on an Inner Harbor cruise. Those at Pikesville High have rented a nine-screen movie theater. And Parkville High seniors will party at Towson State University -- with one lucky student winning a sporty 1988 red Mitsubishi.

The trend toward such elaborate after-prom parties began with a single Baltimore County event in 1991, and now more than 30 county and city schools are offering the affairs, which kick into high gear this weekend. More than 6,000 students are expected to participate.

"It's something the kids need. It's such a high-risk night, not just for drinking but for sexual behavior and violent behavior," said Barbara Berner, who is working on her fourth post-prom event for Parkville High School.

Tonight, more than 70 Parkville parents dressed in formal black pants, white shirts and cummerbunds will turn the University Union at Towson State into a casino wonderland -- a popular theme -- for the graduating class. They expect 186 seniors, 80 percent of the Class of '97, to attend.

The events "are getting bigger and bigger," said Michael M. Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Bureau of Substance Abuse, which offers grants for the parties.

And more complex.

Months of planning go into the events, mostly organized by parents who solicit donations from businesses and the community.

"It's like having a baby. It takes nine months," joked Berner.

This weekend, sleep-deprived parents will add the finishing touches, as they hang strobe lights and crepe paper at bowling lanes and athletic clubs, act as casino croupiers, serve pizza and clean up trash. The events usually start around midnight and end about 4 a.m.

"I found out you can actually be awake from 5 a.m. to 5 a.m.," said Nora Kotula, second-year co-chairwoman of Towson High's casino party, which was held early this morning at the Towson Y.M.C.A. "It's worth it for the kids."

Started 6 years ago

The search for alcohol- and drug-free events started in the county about six years ago, when parents noticed an increase in the number of students drinking, renting blocks of hotel rooms for parties and heading to Ocean City for the night, Gimbel said.

"I like to keep the kids off the streets. I don't want them out drinking," said Alex Kazaras, general manager of Parkville's Doug Griffith Chrysler-Plymouth, which donates cars for the celebrations.

He also gave a 1988 Pontiac Sunbird to Loch Raven High, which is holding its party Friday at Oregon Ridge. The school expects 204 students, about 85 percent of the senior class, to enjoy games and silent auctions.

Volunteers spend most of the school year raising thousands of dollars to sponsor the events, which are free to the students.

Owings Mills and Franklin High even formed a partnership to plan their separate events so they only had to solicit goods and services from area businesses once. Their parties are held at a Reisterstown bowling lane -- Franklin's tonight and Owings Mills' next Saturday.

"More goes into the post-prom party than the prom," said Sandy Haas, Loch Raven High's bookkeeper. "We're keeping our children safe."

Organizers require students to stay until the end of the parties to claim prizes -- from manicures to cordless phones and computers.

"The idea is to keep the kids in one place for a long, extended time," said Terry Conway, secretary at St. Mary's High in Annapolis, which held a post-prom breakfast May 10 aboard the Harbor Queen.

'Not a lock-in'

Added Wendy Chico, an Owings Mills High parent, "This is not a lock-in. But if they leave, they can't come back."

But despite parents' efforts, snags occur.

Recently, an alert limousine driver realized students were drinking and using drugs before going to their after-prom event. She called police when she couldn't locate their parents, and one student was arrested for possessing marijuana.

"We're very strict," said Lisa Hare, a vice president of Memories Limousines in Baltimore, which signs a prom pledge with other limo operators and hotels to discourage drinking, drugs and smoking. "We're not baby sitters, but sometimes that's what it involves."

And some after-prom ideas are not as successful as others.

Rob Travieso, 18, a graduating senior at Friends School in Baltimore, wasn't happy with his school's party, held April 18 at a local coffee shop with disc jockey.

"It wasn't so great," he said. "For some reason, I wanted to go bowling. After dancing, you want to go bowling."

Pub Date: 5/17/97

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