By Donald Wittkowski
When Sea Isle City police officers showed up Wednesday night at a place where teenagers were hanging out, what do you think happened?
The teens were told to go home? Their parents were called? Arrests were made?
Actually, the cops and the teens got together to play some volleyball.
The event is called Acoustic Open Mic Night and features free entertainment appealing to the 14 to 20-year-old age group.
Police Chief Tom McQuillen, who was one of the cops playing volleyball with the teens on Wednesday, said Open Mic Night is an opportunity for his department to build stronger bonds with young people instead of having an adversarial relationship.
“It’s all about breaking down barriers and opening up the lines of communication,” McQuillen said in an interview Sunday.
Open Mic Night kicked off July 10 for this summer and will be held every Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m. in Excursion Park through Aug. 21. Acoustic music, karaoke, an Xbox game truck, baggo games and volleyball under the lights are part of the entertainment lineup sponsored by the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization.
The activities are designed to keep teenagers from hanging out and drinking on Sea Isle’s beaches or Promenade late at night. The idea for Open Mic Night followed outbursts of underage drinking and rowdy behavior by teenagers, particularly during the summer of 2016.
“When you’re doing something positive, you’re not going to get into trouble,” Chamber of Commerce President Christopher Glancey said.
Open Mic Night is now in its third year. Glancey and McQuillen gave credit to Chamber member Brian Heritage for organizing the event. Heritage is the owner of Heritage Surf & Sport.
In an interview last year, Heritage explained that Open Mic Night fills a void in Sea Isle for teen-oriented entertainment and activities.
“Sea Isle doesn’t have a lot of entertainment for this demographic. We have to address that,” he said then.
In the first year, the Chamber held Open Mic Night between 9-10:30 p.m., but has been given special permission by the city to extend the time to 11 p.m. to make it more appealing to teens, Glancey said.
Volleyball has been added to the mix this summer to give teens another activity, in addition to the acoustic music, karaoke and Xbox video games. The Sea Isle City Fire Department installed temporary lights in Excursion Park for nighttime volleyball on Wednesday.
Glancey noted that the volleyball games gave the teens and the police officers a chance to get to know each other in a friendly environment.
“Watching teenagers and police interacting is interesting,” he said. “It’s great to see them interacting in a positive way.”
McQuillen, who has stressed community outreach in the police department since his appointment as chief in 2018, said some of his officers will be at every Open Mic Night throughout the summer to build “that bridge” with teenagers.
“It’s another way to see us out of uniform, like the regular people we are,” he said of the police officers. “It’s kind of showing our human side.”
Based on the strong turnout for the first Open Mic Night this summer, McQuillen predicted that the event will continue to be a big draw for teens.
“If you give them an outlet and a place to go, they’ll come,” he said.
Open Mic Night is one of the free nights of entertainment that will be held in Excursion Park throughout the summer. The city also sponsors family-friendly movies, concerts and dances in the park.
The idea behind the free nighttime entertainment is to draw more families and visitors to town during Sea Isle’s all-important summer vacation season. After the shows wrap up in Excursion Park, city officials hope that tourists will mingle around downtown for a while, spending their money at the local shops and restaurants.