Fright Night!

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    30th Annual Halloween Program

    Spooks and spirits, ghosts and goblins will enchant the Bay Oaks Recreational Center campus on Friday evening, October 25, when the Town of Fort Myers Beach Department of Parks & Recreation hosts the 30th annual “Fright Night” at 2731 Oak Street from 6 to 9 p.m. Fright Night is $4-per-person, $10 for a family of four, and $4 per additional person for families larger than that. It features the famous Haunted House, age-group costume contests, fun, games and much more, including food sales from the Dog House Restaurant.
    Recreation Campus Manager Sarah Mayher pointed out that “babies receive free admission and we will have an ‘Infant Zone’ roped off specifically for them throughout the event, to give our youngest guests a safe and non-scary area to enjoy the party! We also designate the beginning of the Haunted House for younger children and those who are not so keen on all the spooky and scary stuff, so that is from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m. We turn the lights on and the volunteers in costume act more like greeters than monsters, as we learned over the years that not everyone wants the pants frightened off them! To enjoy this part of the evening, get in line right when we start organizing everyone at 6 p.m.” Recreation Supervisor Dominic Earhart added that the admission includes a Goody Bag with two Haunted House tickets per person, “so everyone can go through twice! Often families go once early, to prepare the kids, then again later when we ratchet it all up.”

    The Terror Begins

    At 6:45 p.m., the real fun – or terror – begins! “The Haunted House is the main Bay Oaks building,” Dominic related. “It extends from the gymnasium to the multi-purpose and cardio rooms, then back into the gym, with ten decorated chambers and two haunted walkways, all in an asylum theme this year! We work closely with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department in setting everything up, so while it may be scary to the senses, it is in reality a safe environment. We send you off in small groups, each led by a Bay Oaks staff member as a guide, as it is dark, so we want everyone to move safely through the building. What is great about the Haunted House is it lets our entire staff be as creative as they possibly can be in decorating the stations!”

    So how scary after 6:45? “The intensity jumps for sure,” laughed Dominic! “The lights go out and the volunteers really get into their act and the music becomes louder with lighting effects!” “The later into the night, the more the volunteers get into their characters,” emphasized Sarah. “I would say the scariest part is the last hour, because by 8 p.m., everyone is really wound up and they definitely put a charge into our guests! One advantage of having staff lead the individual groups is that if we find a child who turns out not to be a brave as they thought, we can safely lead them out an exit. Another benefit is that, being from a small island, we know many of the kids and can make sure those who tend to be skittish go through it earlier when it is not so intense.”

    While the Haunted House can be scary, the majority of the evening is family-friendly. “We have fun things from toddlers to all ages above that, with stuff like Costume Contests, various games, and many more activities,” Sarah explained. “There truly is something for everyone and we hope everyone gets caught up in the spirit of the evening and comes in costume, even parents! While costumes are not mandatory, almost every child dresses up and I would say about 80 percent of the parents do as well, even if they are just in a simple mask or outfit.”

    Sarah added, “The Costume Contests are from infants and children all the way up through adults, with age group winners. These start at 7 p.m. and staff will select 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each division. The Beach Elementary School kids will participate in a Coloring Contest, where they do their drawings in class the week before Fright Night, then we will display their works that evening and staff chooses the winners who we will announce that night. There will be 6 to 8 different major game stations throughout the campus, ranging from Football Toss to Ring Toss to the Basketball Hoop, with smaller games for the younger kids, including crafts and coloring tables, so even though Fright Night lasts three hours, with everything we offer, that goes by so quick. There is no charge for any of these things once you pay your admission, and most of the prizes are candy because to the children that is the reason for the night!”

    Bay Oaks is cognizant that the early part of Fright Night corresponds with many family dinner times, so the Dog House will provide an alternative to candy for dinner. “They will offer hot dogs and hamburgers and items like that,” Sarah said, “so kids have something more in their system than just sweets! They are working to keep costs low and family-friendly.”

    Candy & Volunteers

    To make Fright Night as much fun for kids as possible, while keeping the Bay Oaks cost low, the Parks & Recreation Department is accepting donated candies. Kindly contribute unopened bags of candy of any kind, to help make the night full of candy-gobbling fun! Anyone who donates 10 large bags of candy will receive a free Fright Night Family Pass. While the Bay Oaks staff would appreciate these donations in advance, they will gladly accept unopened bags right up to the start of Fright Night. “Last year, we went through roughly 60 large bags of candy, of all different sizes and varieties,” Sarah said. “We give candy away not only as treats but prizes at approximately ten game and distribution areas over the three-hour timeframe, and last year we ran out right when the evening ended, so that was perfect!”

    In addition to candy, Parks & Recreation needs Fright Night volunteers for everything from being Haunted House monsters in full costume and makeup to greeters to event set-up and cleanup to those who will host the various games and activities to the most popular ones – those who distribute candy! “We have a large number of volunteers who return each and every year,” explained Sarah, “but an additional 15 or so more people would be ideal. That way, we can give everyone a break at some point during the evening so they can enjoy the event as well. To entice you, all volunteers receive free pizza and beverages, and this is a great way for high school and college kids to earn Community Service hours. We reached out to local theater departments and high schools, and always have a good contingent from Florida Gulf Coast University.” To volunteer, stop by at Bay Oaks, call 239-765-4222, or email at sarah@fmbgov.com or dominic@fmbgov.com by the close of business on Thursday, October 24.

    To prepare everything necessary for Fright Night, the Parks & Recreation Department closes the Bay Oaks Recreational Center from Thursday, October 24 through Sunday, October 27, reopening it on Monday, October 28, at 7:30 a.m. Sarah noted, however, “We will host our Club Rec Afterschool Programs on the 24th and 25th. We also close the Community Pool on Friday the 25th because that is where we have Club Rec that day, so we don’t spoil the fun for any of the kids who will attend the Haunted House that evening. The Pool will return to its normal hours on the 26th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.”

    Counting Down The Days

    Fright-Night-Family-FunFor Sarah, who grew up on Fort Myers Beach, Fright Night has been a tradition most of her life. “As kids, we looked forward to it so much every October because not only was it fun with a lot of candy, but it seemed like it was one of those few nights each year when you saw everyone who lived on the island, so you counted down the days until Fright Night! While I loved the Haunted House, I must admit that my favorite activity was the Coloring Contest because it seemed like I won it year after year, so I was always the Defending Champ!”

    Dominic, who has been doing Fright Night since 2013, loves “seeing the entire community come together, with parents and kids having a great time, along with volunteers and staff playing prominent roles, all going above and beyond, and that is what makes this a really cool event! That is why we encourage every member of the Fort Myers Beach community to attend, as there truly is something at Fright Night for everyone.”

    “We are in our 30th year,” added Sarah, “so we must be doing something right, so come join us for a howling good time!”