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BayWalk brawl worries some parents, not others

BayWalk is a place a middle schooler can love.

It offers children 11 to 14 years old a controlled taste of freedom, a chance to mingle with peers, and perhaps the all-important occasion to appear sophisticated.

Parents can drop their middle schoolers at a police-protected shopping and entertainment center. Generally, they can feel secure about a youngster's safety until pickup a few hours later.

Typically, kids go to a movie, then are allowed a little time to snag ice cream at Ben & Jerry's or a burger at Johnny Rockets before parents retrieve them.

So what's to be made of Friday's moving fight at the popular downtown venue?

Parents are contemplating, chatting and comparing notes in the wake of the disorder, which resulted in the arrests of seven adults and seven juveniles. Police showed up in force. No serious injuries were reported. It still isn't clear how the brawl began, although a couple of arguing 13-year-olds may have lit the fuse.

Neighborhood Times sampled a few parents who frequently let their youngsters enjoy BayWalk, which is on Second Avenue N between First and Second streets.

One said Friday's incident means no more unsupervised trips there for her youngster.

Another said several parents will meet to discuss what to do.

Others suggested they will continue to let their children go _ with a predetermined time frame for movie and snacks, and instructions not to leave BayWalk.

Kristen Triplett and her husband, Clarke, plan to meet with other parents tonight to determine what to do about their six daughters, who are 13 and 14 and who go to BayWalk a lot on weekends.

Triplett wasn't ready to say that she won't let her daughter return. "We'll continue to let her go and be doing earlier times and better chaperoning," Triplett said. "We'll see what other options we can come up with.

"I don't think the city did anything wrong. I don't think BayWalk did anything wrong," Triplett said.

But Sherri Migneault has always been a little wary of sending her 12-year-old daughter, Morgan McCabe, to BayWalk alone.

Bars, roaming adolescents and the possibility of reckless adults, for her, made for a terrible combination.

"I work with the mentally ill," said Migneault, who lives in Largo. "And I see some of my clients sitting there talking to themselves at Starbucks."

On the ground floor of the BayWalk parking garage, the coffee shop is on First Avenue N about a block away from the main BayWalk complex.

Still, Migneault let Morgan go to an afternoon showing of Meet the Fockers with a few friends on New Year's Day. Everything went well that day, Migneault said, but her worst suspicions came true when she heard about Friday night's fracas.

Now the decision for Morgan is clear: No more going to BayWalk unsupervised. Not even in the afternoon.

"Maybe I'll let her go to the movies and (I'll) hide in the background or something," Migneault said. "But she's not going back there alone."

Others say they won't deny their children a chance to go, but suggest a measure of caution.

Linda Fyvolent has two 13-year-olds and a 16-year-old who frequent BayWalk, though they were not there Friday.

She has no plans to prevent her children from going back to the entertainment center or to stop letting them off and picking them up later.

"We have never had any problems. Every time (I drop off the kids), there are so many officers, we feel like it is more than safe."

Fyvolent said her younger children attend early movies, but her 16-year-old goes to later shows. The family lives in the Tyrone area, so it is not a quick trip to BayWalk.

She said her 16-year-old daughter went to BayWalk on Saturday night with a friend and one of the friend's parents. At that time Fyvolent did not know about the disturbance at BayWalk.

"I don't know if she would have gone if we had known about it," she said.

"Some people she knows go to the beach. I prefer she go to BayWalk than the beach," Fyvolent said.

Robert Love, a lawyer with a 14-year-old son, said he wants to find out exactly what took place. But he doesn't foresee drastic changes in his perspective.

"I'm not going to be held hostage to that (Friday night incident). My son likes to go there. His friends like to go there. We trust his judgment and his friends' judgment," Love said.

"It's like anything else in life. You have to be aware what's going on around you, but you can't quit living."

Jeannette Ringeisen said her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, goes to BayWalk about three times a month, often with large groups of girls. Ringeisen said she and her husband will continue to let their daughter go.

"I think I'll just continue to tell her to stay with her friends, stay with the group, and if there's trouble to call us," Ringeisen said. "I think they're pretty responsible."