Millennium celebration a 'clean teen party'

January 01, 2000

Best friendsBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photos: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

The young gladiators dueled into the night.

They stalked each other with laser guns, pummeled opponents with padded batons and strapped themselves in for virtual NASCAR racing. And it all happened in church.

At Bethel Assembly of God Church on Wilson Boulevard, more than 200 young people made New Year's Eve seem like a slumber party at an amusement park. From 10 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. today, they played and partied.

"This is the awesomest party in Hagerstown," said Megan Ball, 16, of Smithsburg.

"It's a clean teen party," said Megan Shea, 15, of Waynesboro, Pa.

No drinking was allowed and good behavior was encouraged. Parental permission slips were required.

"You must maintain a Christ-like attitude at all times," warned a sign at the registration table.

The event was open to those between the ages of 11 and 20 for a $10 admission fee. Anyone 18 or older could leave early, but others surrendered their keys and remained until morning.


They enjoyed video games, movies, Christian rock, catered food and other entertainment.

Balloon dropIn the center of one room, two figures stood on wooden platforms. They held giant, Q-tip shaped sticks with padded ends. They tried to knock each other off a high beam, striking at each other's limbs and trunks.

Jeremiah Bell, 17, of Hagerstown, won a round and got back into line.

"It's better than going out, running around and getting into trouble," he said.

Several feet away, two girls put on suits filled with two inflated inner tubes. They collided and bounced, trying to knock each other out of a ring marked by tape on the floor.

Alana Sowers landed outside and lost. The 16-year-old Hagerstown resident said it was her third year at Bethel on New Year's Eve. "I love it. It's so much fun. I'd rather be here than anywhere else," she said.

Downstairs, the halls were aglow in black lights and strobe lights. In some rooms, tables were overturned and chairs positioned for cover. As they prepared to enter the laser tag war zone, the players listened to rules and instructions.

"Daddy!" called Brooke Johnson, 5, to her father as he passed the doorway. Youth pastor Wes Johnson, 29, organized the event. He was unfazed by his daughter's participation. "That kid can hang with anybody," he said.

Upstairs, a few sat quietly and watched movies like "Toy Story," the "Star Wars" trilogy and "A Bug's Life."

"This is kind of like the chill room," Johnson said.

Kids crowded around three wide-screen televisions playing Nintendo and Sega games, fighting with swords and riding skateboards. Some waited in line to hop inside a small red model sportscar, strap on a helmet and race virtually.

The room was decorated with orange, blue and white balloons, hanging stars and glittering white lights. It was noisy, but quiet came over the crowd with the countdown. It began with 14.

Hands reached up toward a blue tarp. A white rope pulled and the tarp unfolded, releasing some 150 colored balloons. The kids popped them, pushed them back into the air, and ran holding them like footballs. Outside, the fireworks flew.

After midnight, Johnson planned to deliver a "pep talk" before local bands The 13th Tribe and Looking Glass Self played. He would begin with a verse from Ecclesiastes and emphasize the opportunities in life and choices we make, he said.

The message is "You matter to God," he said. "I try to give them hope."

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