Club Friday at Potomac community center sees decades of success

Hundreds of children flock to the community center's weekly event

by Cody Calamaio | Staff Writer

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Tess Colwell/The Gazette
Danielle Miller and Sasha Gerber, both 8 and from Potomac, create a poster for the anti-drug poster contest at Club Friday at the Potomac Community Recreation Center last month.

A group of sixth grade girls jumped in anticipation as a stack of handmade posters were carried past them at the Potomac Community Recreation Center.

When Jordyn Goldzweig's name was called as a winner of the poster contest the girls erupted into high-pitched squeals and leaped into each other's arms.

"We try to win as much stuff as possible," said Jordyn, 11, of Potomac. Her anti-drug poster earned her a T-shirt with a similar message.

Jordyn and her friends are among the hundreds of children that gather in the Potomac community center for a preteen jamboree known as Club Friday, a program that has remained widely popular for more than 20 years.

The program roughly costs the county $36,000 a season to run, most of which goes to employee costs, said Jeffrey Bourne, a division chief in the recreation department.

With 550 members paying $65 for a season, the program almost breaks even, Bourne said. The program is not currently a part of the county's fiscal 2011 operating budget savings plan, which will cut $32 million in spending.

Friday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. from October to April, the community center is overrun with third to sixth graders playing bingo, watching television, competing in sports, dancing to a disc jockey or generally scampering between activities.

Retired community center director Linda Barlock stands at the entrance to what she calls the "quiet wing" and tries to herd the running children out of the main hallway and toward the gymnasium.

"You can never stop them from running," said Barlock, who continues to volunteer and work part-time at the center.

Since she helped launch the program in 1989, Barlock has seen the registration list of those vying for the coveted 550 Club Friday memberships overflowing almost every year.

The waiting list for the annual memberships has been as long as 240 names, she said. The 15 children who started on the waiting list this year have been accepted.

Once a month following Club Fridays, the community center also has a program called After Hours, which is available for middle school age children from 9:15 to 11 p.m., Barlock said. It typically sees about 150 children a session.

Barlock attributes Club Friday's decades of popularity to allowing children to let loose in a safe, supervised way.

"I think the success of it is that it is not a scripted activity like so much of their life is," Barlock said.

When Barlock needs a hand controlling the children, she just asks "Coach Doug" to blow his whistle, she said.

Doug Wilson, known to the children as "Coach Doug," began volunteering at Club Fridays in the program's first year as part of his rehabilitation after a motorcycle accident put him in the hospital for weeks.

"When I first started I wasn't mobile at all," said Wilson, 42, of Potomac. "I couldn't play with 5-year- olds."

Wilson has developed friendships with the children and usually oversees sporting activities in the gym.

"These kids helped me, and now I help them," Wilson said.

A form of Club Friday predates the Potomac community center, and is largely responsible for its creation, said Allan Cohen, a board member with the Friends of the Potomac Community Center. Cohen was one of the founders of the Potomac Teens Club, which successfully lobbied for the former elementary school building to be converted into a community center in the 1980's.

The Friends of the Potomac Community Center run a snack bar at Club Fridays, which helps raise money to support the program and other efforts of the community center, he said.

James Su, 18, of Potomac was home from college on winter break and volunteered in the snack bar. As a Club Friday alumni, Su helps at the event whenever he gets a chance.

"I felt like I wanted to start doing something with my life, and I felt this would be a start," Su said.

An average of 20 parent volunteers help run the program each week, Barlock said. Parents are required to volunteer at least one night or risk their child being blacklisted from membership the following year.

Kailyn Groisser, 12, of Potomac doesn't mind having a parent accompany her once a year.

She has been coming to Club Fridays with her friends for four years. As a sixth-grader, she is determined to make the most of her last year.

"We forget about everything, we just hang out and have fun," Kailyn said.

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