Lavish fun after the prom

The Baltimore Sun

After the prom, high school senior Cody Wolfe ditched his tuxedo and slipped into a hulking, flesh-toned sumo suit. He then raced onto a mat to body slam two classmates who were also wearing puffy fat suits.

What better way to spend prom night?

After the last slow dance, Wolfe joined about 240 C. Milton Wright High School students who left the ballroom on a recent Saturday night and headed to another party where the DJ played fast-paced, upbeat songs, the cooler was packed with nonalcoholic drinks and the hot tub was running - all under the watchful eyes of 50 parents.

Parent groups are enticing students to come to supervised parties - held at movie theaters and recreation centers such as Dave and Buster's and ESPN Zone - where they are loaded with video games, activities and lavish prizes.

The post-prom bashes cost about $12,000 to $25,000, and at the end of the night, fancy gadgets such as the Nintendo Wii, digital cameras, computers and even cars are raffled to students who attend.

This is a way to keep teenagers, who might drink and drive or get into trouble, safe on prom night, parents say.

"It's a nice incentive to try to get the kids to come instead of going to an individual's home," said Vera Malkowski, co-chairwoman of the C. Milton Wright event. "This way, you hope to keep them off the street and away from drinking and driving. We're giving them something fun as an alternative."

All 12 Howard County high schools and most of the Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County high schools held parent-sponsored after-prom celebrations this year. At least four Harford County high schools also held after-prom events.

Parents from C. Milton Wright sponsored their first post-prom bash, transforming the Bel Air Athletic Club into a carnival of games and activities from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m.

In aerobics rooms, teenagers stomped to the Dance Dance Revolution game, strummed to Guitar Hero and played tennis on Wii. Downstairs in the gym, students wearing a Velcro jumpsuit thrust themselves onto a sticky wall and others wrestled in sumo suits.

The pool and hot tub were heated and ready for use, while parents sat in lawn chairs nearby. The indoor track at the gym was transformed into a mini-casino, lined with roulette and poker tables.

A racetrack where students could zip around on motorized toilets, called potty racing, was placed on the basketball court.

After surveying a slew of prizes that included two 26-inch LCD high-definition television sets, two laptops with printers, a Nintendo Wii game system, an iPod nano, a GPS unit, a digital camera and dozens of restaurant and retail gift certificates, Wolfe, 17, decided to put his raffle tickets into a bucket for the PlayStation III.

"I was surprised at how many things there were to do," he said. "They kept me busy with Guitar Hero and sumo wrestling."

To raise money, Wright's parent volunteers sold graduation banners, asked the high school seniors' parents for $100 donations, approached local businesses and held bingos for the post-prom soiree, which cost nearly $20,000.

Despite the price tag and time involved, parents say it's worth the effort.

"Statistics show that it's a night of risk," said Robin Procida, co-chairwoman of the committee that organized an after-prom party at Wilde Lake High in Howard County. "The safety of the children is the No. 1 issue. It's not bribing - it's a dedicated effort to avoid that situation where they would've hung out and probably would have had alcohol that would lead to something happening when their judgment is impaired. It's giving them a safer option."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost a third of the 15- to 20-year-old drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking. Statistics also show that alcohol-related deaths increased during the prom and graduation months of April and June.

Supervised post-prom parties help prevent underage drinking, said Caroline Cash, executive director for the Chesapeake regional chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"We urge parents to be the parent ... and be directly involved in prom and graduation party planning with [their] children," she said.

In Howard County, Wilde Lake students were bused back to school after a late-night, free post-prom bash at Dave and Buster's in Hanover. South Carroll High's after-prom event was planned at ESPN Zone. Private schools also are participating in the late-night parties, including John Carroll School in Bel Air, which also held its post-prom event at ESPN Zone.

The Inner Harbor has been busy with such post-prom parties since mid-April and some schools are calling to book a year in advance, said Leigh Friedman, regional marketing manager for ESPN Zone.

"It's definitely a growing trend," she said. "People are catching on. It's a lot of fun and a great way to celebrate the end of the school year. We've expanded to Thursdays because we've ended up getting a lot of schools on Fridays and Saturdays, so we're trying to accommodate as many as we can."

Dave and Buster's in Hanover was booked almost every weekend in the spring for high school events, said Joe Burke, special events manager.

Even with the incentives and lavish prizes, sometimes students don't attend the after-prom parties.

"There's less of it in Carroll, because of the expense involved, and students were not coming out in large numbers," said Sherri-Le Bream, director of high schools for Carroll County public schools.

It's a concern that the parents at Wright had.

"We started this thinking if 50 kids showed up, then we had 50 kids we kept from going someplace drinking and possibly not ending up the way they should on prom night. You can imagine how we felt with 240 kids," said Linda Vitali, a co-chairwoman for the event at C. Milton Wright.

In the early morning at the C. Milton Wright party, two juniors zigzagged around the potty race course on the motorized toilets, occasionally bumping into the inflatable walls, unleashing a fit of giggles.

"Everybody said it's going to be fun; that's why we came," said Meghan McNeil, 17, as she took a break from racing to send a text message.

"Plus, it's safer, and it's not worth getting in trouble," said her friend, Lanie Merkle, 16, who sat beside her on another racer. "Toilets are an adrenaline rush."

As the party came to a close, Stephanie Foley, an exhausted Wright senior, fell asleep. Her father woke her in time for the raffle.

"She was quite grumpy and kept saying, 'I just want to go home,' " said her father, Scott Foley. "But she's not too grumpy anymore."

His daughter won the raffle for the used maroon Toyota Camry.

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