Teen 'hide-a-way' a booming business

Thursday, January 3, 2002

Take a little drive just northeast of Lepanto city limits, turn left on Pritchett Road, then right on Turtle Lane and you will find a 1000 square foot (approximately) building that once was a restaurant, desolate, lonely and calm, until Friday night.

On Friday night, you may see a traffic cop directing the cars around 7 p.m. from as far as Forrest City, Osceola, Keiser, and (on New Year's Eve), West Plains, Missouri and Gosnell, among other places, from time to time.

So what's so exciting on the gravel road, in small town America. It's a young people's 'discothque,' T & L Dance Club, run by Pam and Rick Freeman, with a little help from Larry Williams and family members who frequent the 'disco' from time to time.

The club started in January 1999 and numbers have steadily increased from the start. "Word of mouth is powerful among kids," Pam Freeman says. It didn't take long for the word to spread.

The building is a long open room with a snack bar, tables, dance floor, (complete with disco light) and stage area. At the door, Larry Williams, a former police officer, is the 'kiddie' bouncer. He watches the door, sells the tickets and generally maintains order amidst the chaos of loud music, excited kids and lots of fun.

The patrons range in age from 8 to 20. The entry fee is $3, for which you receive a ticket for door prizes and entertainment from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (except on this New Year's eve, when the fun lasted until 1 a.m.). Once a ticket is purchased, if you are under 16 and brought by your parents, you are not allowed to leave until they pick you up. If you are over 16, drove yourself, and you leave, you will not re-enter without a renewed entry fee of $3, which is enforced by Larry Williams. This is to discourage non-supervised activities outside the facility. Within the 'disco,' the rule is, throw a punch and you will not be allowed to return. This is a major deterrent to teens fighting. Also, no alcohol is allowed and one must have an 18 or older (with picture) ID to smoke.

The draw is loud music of all kinds, the disco lights, door prizes of up to $25 for the lucky winner and lots of supervised fellowship with friends. Dancing comes in last in the equation. There are a few who dance every dance. But, slow dancing, which is infrequent within the music culture of this generation, does bring more couples to the dance floor.

Rick and Pam Freeman are at home with the up to 120 kids who have frequented the 'disco' on Friday and Saturday nights. With ease they mingle among the kids and serve up friendly conversation, food and entertainment. Pam, with the help of family members, covers the snack bar where hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, popcorn and drinks are served. Rick keeps the music going and acts as backup to Larry Williams at the door. It appears to be a labor of love for this vibrant young couple. They have one young daughter (8) who enjoys the entertainment each week and helps keep the business a family affair.

Every weekend, on Friday and Saturday night, the kids (and parents) can depend on the Freeman's to be there. On occasion, Rick has been compelled to take some of the smaller patrons to the police station when they were not picked up on time (by 11:15 p.m.), to be taken home. They have been known to take some of the children home, as well. Children must be picked up by 11:15.

This New Year's Eve was a special night at T & L Dance Club. Rick Freeman has, in years past, played drums in a band. This week, he gathered members of that band to entertain the kids with live music. They were Rusty Pilgrim of West Plains, Mo. who plays guitar, keyboard and sings, and Randy Robertson of Gosnell who plays bass, writes music and sings, with Rick on drums. The band started around 8 p.m. and the place was hopping from that point on, until 1 a.m. The Freeman family members were there to share the New Year event with them and they were where they wanted to be, with whom they want to be, some 100 Tri-City area kids, 'disco-ing' in the New Year.

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