Originally created 07/14/97

The party's on



``Red Rover, Red Rover, if you like pizza run on over!'' yells David Bryan, co-owner of The Little Gym. Ten screaming and giggling children run across the gym floor, dodging the colossal foam bats that Mr. Bryan and his assistant are swinging.

``Red Rover, Red Rover, if you like liver and onions run on over!''

``EEEEEwwww!''

Daniel Mines, age 4, is having a great time. He's playing his favorite games, running through the gym for free play time, singing songs, eating birthday cake, and loving his guest of honor status.

And his parents, B.J. and Pete Mines, are enjoying letting Mr. Bryan and his staff run their son's party so they can relax and watch the kids have fun.

``We love this place,'' Mrs. Mines said. ``It's such a family-oriented, kid-oriented place. We've done all our parties here.''

No longer does a child's birthday party consist of a homemade cake and a few friends coming over to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. With more two-income families and less free time, the trend is now to have kids' parties away from home.

From mini-golf to McDonald's, from bumper boats to gymnastics, a plethora of party options exist in the Augusta area.

``When a mom comes here for a birthday party, she does it because she doesn't want the mess, the hassle and the confusion in her home,'' said Liz Ross, district manager of Putt-Putt. ``We're in charge of everything start to finish, from entertainment to cleanup.''

That kind of service makes on-location parties attractive to parents. Becky Alexander, who had a Putt-Putt party for her 5-year-old son Joseph, said it was great because the kids could ``be energetic and still enjoy themselves and not get in trouble - there's no furniture to break!''

``The kids could entertain themselves and not get bored,'' she added. ``They serve and clean up, so you get to participate with the kids and enjoy the party too.''

Mrs. Alexander especially liked Putt-Putt's TotalPlay area - a giant indoor playground with slides, a ball-pit, and mazes to crawl through. It's big enough for adults to get in and play, too, and they encourage parents to play with the kids.

A formal tea party at the Partridge Inn was the choice for Kathleen Lewis's eighth birthday. Her mom, Vivian, said she got the idea from a friend who had done a party there. For $12 per guest plus tax, the Partridge Inn provides blueberry scones, banana nut bread, canapes and other goodies, plus a choice of Earl Gray tea or various herbal teas.

``I brought the cake and they did everything else,'' Mrs. Lewis said. ``We always try to do something really special for birthdays, and the Partridge Inn is close to where we live.''

Leslie Holton, manager of Auntie Em's Ice Cream Parlour in Martinez, said the shop has only been hosting parties since January, but their business has picked up tremendously through word of mouth and advertising.

``We're booked every weekend,'' she said. Their parties cost $55 for up to 15 children, and include all paper products, an ice cream cake, party favors, balloons, a special place mat for the honoree, games and a group picture.

Parents who want their child's party to be educational as well as fun may opt for Fort Discovery. A fee of $100 for members and $125 for non-members buys an hour in a private room with a party host, admission for 10 kids and two adults, cake, balloons, paper products and Coke, a hands-on science demonstration and unlimited time in the Fort Discovery exhibit space. The birthday child gets a T-shirt and goody bag.

If that's a little more than you'd like to spend, try the Richmond County Fire Department.

``People have birthday parties in the park, then they'll come in here and we give them a tour of the station, raise the ladder on one of the trucks, maybe turn on the water hose,'' said Edward Neal, a fire department employee. ``And we'll talk to the kids about fire safety and prevention,'' he said. All county stations offer tours. They ask for at least a week's notice and an estimate of the number of kids to expect.

The price? It's free.