By dawn on New Year's Day, as the all-night childrens' party wound to a close, Tina Lichens, 17, wore a look of defeat.

With blank eyes she stared for a minute at a clock on the wall. Time passed, but to Tina, a YMCA counselor in Silver Spring, it seemed frozen. She toyed with a pencil. She tapped her fingers. She rose from her seat at one point, draped her body across the registration desk and groaned.

"This is what it does to you," said Ursula Costa, 15, also a volunteer counselor. She managed a weary smile, folded her arms a little tighter, and slumped a little deeper in her chair.

The morning after. . . .

The sun had risen, but the Silver Spring YMCA's New Year's Eve bash still hadn't ended. Tina Lichens and Ursula Costa sure wished it would, as did every other volunteer counselor in the place, because it wasn't any party for them. The event was an overnight blowout for 24 children, average age 10, party animals all.

"We tried to make them sleep," said Ursula's brother Ben, 16, still riding herd as the magic hour of 9 a.m. approached, pick-up time for parents. He spoke over the din. "All they did is throw stuff at each other."

"Ben was up all night going, 'Shhhh! Shhhh! Shhhh!' " his sister said.

What a terrific service, parents agreed. It started a few years ago. For $25 to $45, depending on their membership status, they could drop their children at the YMCA at 7 p.m., ring in the new year in their own fashion, and retrieve the little ones in the morning. For the youngsters, some of them veterans at this, it was a chance to stay up all night, play games, swim, eat snacks and raise their voices to new heights.

"He started talking about it in June," Walter Ludwig of Takoma Park said of his 9-year-old son Max.

"Baby sitters are a drag for kids," said Caroline Carpenter of Washington, who brought her 8-year-old daughter Kelly. "It's sort of business as usual, and kids feel dumped. But here, they don't feel dumped."


They arrived clutching sleeping bags and pillows. They wrestled free of their parents' goodnight hugs and scrambled for the gym, which seemed acoustically designed to make 24 children sound like many, many more. Basketballs and soccer balls appeared. Sneakered feet pounded the floorboards. More youngsters bolted in, the decibel level rising like the tide.

Crowd control fell to six counselors. The trick was to outlast the children.

"The last time I was here, I stayed up till 3 o'clock," said Kelly Carpenter with an air of nonchalance. "This time I think I might stay up till then. We don't have to go to bed if we don't want to."

Counselor Ben Costa went to work. It took a while, but he got 12 children to sit quietly side-by-side at each end of the basketball court, then positioned himself in the middle. Here's the game: Ben asks for something, and the children race to be first to bring it to him.

"All right," he shouted. "I need sneakers!"

Children tore off sneakers, squealing with delight.

It went on like this, with Ben running short of ideas long before his charges ran short of patience for the game. They hung on his every "I need," each of them set to burst.

"All right, I need, ahhh . . . four strands of hair!"

He got them.

"All right, I neeeeeed, ahhh . . . three pieces of pocket fuzz!"

Here they come.

"I have a lot of fun with kids," Ben said much later, breathing deeply and rubbing his eyes. "I really do."

There were relay races, one game of this, two games of that, some storytelling, a soccer match, and a much-awaited, hour-long swim.

"Rule Number One is, when we talk, you have to be quiet," Valerie Moore, the YMCA branch's associate director, announced before the swim. "We will not move on to the next activity until everyone's quiet. Understand?"

"No," said one little girl after a pause. Oh, the children got a bang out of that one. But Moore kept a stern face until the laughter stopped.

"Rule Number Two is, if you misbehave, we'll call your parents."

Not a child spoke.

Ben walked among them with a wastebasket. Gum isn't allowed in the pool. He collected 11 wads.

And ever so slowly, midnight approached. Moore thought ahead to the old Star Trek episode that the children would watch from their sleeping bags after greeting the new year. How could they be made to sleep? "Valium?" she wondered aloud, then laughed and thought ahead to morning.

"It's like anticipating a hangover," she said.

But she agreed with Ellen Whitlow, an adult volunteer counselor, who said she loves children and takes satisfaction with the headaches. Tina Lichens agreed. They all did.

"I love their parents, too," Ursula Costa said. "Especially when they come to pick them up."

Not until the final possible minute were noisemakers handed out, and nowhere in the United States, it seemed, could a 15-second countdown to 1988 have sounded louder. Everyone yelled, "Hooray!" Then everyone played some more.

New Year's Resolutions:

"I'm going to feed my cats and be better to my Dad and not argue and get better grades," said Nathaniel Morely, 9, of Silver Spring.

"I want to get more money, and I want to keep my room clean," said Jimmy French, 10, of New Carrollton.

It was after midnight now, and they were looking for the basketballs. But the basketballs had been put away. Moore's voice suddenly interrupted them.

"You can get in your jammies now, if you want to," she announced.