By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications

When Superintendent Bill Parks was working with Gainesville State School recreation staff to envision a recreation center for the campus, he knew he was limited by the space and budget available.

Boys playing indoor basketball.But he wasn’t constrained by a lack of ideas.

He wanted to install games and spaces that the boys would use and truly enjoy. So he asked several young men in residence how they would outfit the recreation hall. At first, they were taken aback that the top man on campus was asking for their input. But they conferred and handed Parks a list of video games he should consider. Not all of the games made the final cut, but some, like the popular and enduring Galaga, passed muster as being suitable and age-appropriate.

“They were surprised when I told them they were going to get it, and they were even more surprised when they actually saw it,” Parks said.

The boys were doubly bowled over when they saw the full new recreation hall take shape. 

“They love it. It looks like an arcade, lounge, man-cave thing” -- but for young people, said Assistant Superintendent Carla Lane.

The space, named the Main Event, opened earlier this fall. It is brightly painted and spacious. Set up in a converted dayroom of a former dorm, it features a ping pong table, an array of arcade games, an indoor basketball game, a pool table (dusted off and relocated from the gym basement), and a theater room with a projector that can be closed off for movie nights.

Recreation staff moved their offices into rooms directly across from the recreation center, making supervision easier, and set up a schedule so all the young men at Gainesville would be able to visit at least once each week. Everyone is welcome. “This gives the staff the chance to interact with the youth—and gives the kids a chance to act like kids.

The recreation staff plans to offer special movie or game nights with popcorn and snow cones to dorms in which all resident Shooting Pool 4smlrs go a month without any misbehavior incidents.

The center works as an enticement for good behavior. 

“We’re dealing with teenagers,” Parks said. “They always want something going on, and if you don’t schedule and provide something for them to do, they’re going to get involved in horseplay.”

Parks knows the youth are embracing the Main Event as their own special place because they talk about it and regularly invite him to join them, usually in a game of ping pong.

“Now that they know I can play, they all want to play me,” he said. He then smiled and added, “I generally let them win so they can brag.”