Catering to Teens, Cautiously

Jennifer Chen, left, and Julie Fry, graduates of Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, get cooled off in their condo fountain in Ocean City.
Jennifer Chen, left, and Julie Fry, graduates of Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, get cooled off in their condo fountain in Ocean City. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 18, 2005

OCEAN CITY -- Back home in Gaithersburg, they were Eagle Scouts and star soccer players. But standing in line outside Ocean City's only under-21 dance club Sunday evening, the roughly one dozen friends from Quince Orchard High School were simply ready to party.

"Tonight H2O . . . invites you to the mother of all foam parties!" blared the club's radio commercial earlier that day. "Dress to get wet!"

The ads for the soap-suds-filled party air almost daily in this coastal resort town during June, when 100,000 high school seniors flock to the city to celebrate the beach, graduation and, for many, their first taste of freedom from home. And every year, for as long as anyone can remember, Ocean City has been waiting for them with open arms.

"It's a town that doesn't just take their money," police spokesman Barry Neeb said. "We're one of the few resorts in the mid-Atlantic that -- I don't want to say embraces them, but welcomes them."

Sunday night was the first time that Quince Orchard senior Jessica Crippin, 17, had ever been clubbing. She and her friends had arrived in Ocean City at 7 a.m. the previous day after a four-hour drive fueled largely by Red Bull energy drinks. The group was staying in two houses on 67th Street, one for the boys and one for the girls. Tonight would bring them one memory closer to the end of adolescence.

Crippin and her friends took their place in the long line in front of H2O about 8 p.m. to secure the $10 half-price cover charge. About forty-five minutes later, they were ushered in. The sun was still shining, but inside the club flickered neon.

"Where do we go?" Crippin asked, turning to her friends as they huddled close. En masse, they moved toward the packed dance floor.

The lighting was labeled "early ambient" on the control panel manned by Larry Love, the club's director for entertainment. He was saving the more blinding effects until later in the night.

Love had turned the music up loud while the teenagers were waiting outside, bass booming. That way, the kids could hear it and get pumped up before they even walked through the door. Bartenders organized glow-in-the-dark ice cubes that would light up the club's alcohol-free frozen drinks. About five minutes before showtime, Ocean City Mayor James N. Mathias Jr. dropped by.

Dressed for a walk along the boardwalk, a set of headphones dangling around his neck, he shook hands and slapped backs with the club's management. His mother, Dolores, 77, owns one of the buildings that houses the club.

"These guys are good guys," he said. "They look out for the kids."

His visit was brief. The clock was ticking. The Class of 2005 was waiting.

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