If you see a line of miniature goblins and ghouls lined up at Sportsplex's doors Sunday night, it's no Halloween trick. The costumed kids are just arriving early, per tradition, to the Darien Lions Club's annual Halloween Party.
"There's always a slew of kids waiting to come in," said Lions spokesman Ralph Beardsley.
For more than 15 years, the club has hosted the free Halloween extravaganza as a way to keep kids off the streets after dark. This year, the bash runs Oct. 31, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and organizers expect more than 1,300 children to attend.
"It's a good manageable environment where kids can have a good time, and parents can be with them," said Beardsley, noting that most parents stick around for the festivities.
Perennial favorites such as magician Bob James and a spooky walkthrough graveyard return this year, as well as a game show where kids answer trivia questions to earn the right to spend time in a money booth. Whatever fake bills they grab during their stint in the booth are traded for prizes. Sure-footed kids can take a free spin on the ice rink. And as always, there are plenty of other games, prizes and activities, including an inflatable, bouncy obstacle course.
More than 100 of the club's 140 members volunteer as party chaperones, running the games and keeping any potential tricksters in line.
"Just knowing the kids have somewhere safe to go rather than going door-to-door in the community in the dark is so great," said party Chairman Ray Benaitis.
While the Lions pay for most of the party through money collected at various events during the year, the club partnered with several city organizations to make the night complete. The City of Darien will be offering free trolley service from additional parking lots at Ashton Place and the Indian Prairie Public Library. Darien Swim & Racquet Club donated bags for collecting treats. And the Darien Park District donated the use of Sportsplex for the evening.
The use of that facility is what's really allowed the Halloween Party to grow into such a highly anticipated event, Beardsley said. Until Sportsplex opened in the late 90s, the Lions hosted the party at Eisenhower Jr. High. But the bigger space gives the club two large rooms in which to set up all of the activities.
But one thing hasn't changed: "Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces is a really cool thing," Beardsley said. "They go away happy."