Following my parents’ divorce in 1993, my father was transferred to the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida. He took custody of my brother and me and we relocated to the city of every kid’s dreams.
I was nine years old at the time and without a stay-at-home mom to watch us, my dad utilized the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Recreation Center on base to help watch us while he worked. The Rec Center consisted of a large building filled with the latest arcade games (Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II), several pool tables, a TV with a Nintendo hooked up, a large spaceship playground out back, and a skating rink attached.
The Rec Center employed several twenty-somethings as counselors. I distinctly remember Todd and Ms. Jennie. Todd was the guy we all wanted to be. He was cool, and had muscles and a mullet. He was a huge Miami Dolphins fan, so when I broke my elbow, I asked for a Miami Dolphins cast in hopes of impressing him.
Ms. Jennie was less memorable, but I do remember her flirting with my father and telling him she’d be willing to babysit me and my brother at any time. This infuriated me because I was on the cusp of not needing a babysitter or even the Rec Center for supervision.
During the school year, the Rec Center followed a routine. We all rode this purple school bus from school that was branded the “Barney bus”. The bus would drop us off at the Rec Center and we’d immediately go out back to burn our legs on the metal slides or play touch football games. Large coolers of water and some sort of Flavor Aid style fruit punch were made available. The fruit punch had no added sugar so it tasted like bitter water, despite this, we all chose the fruit punch and sported Flavor Aid mustaches for the rest of the evening.
As the sky darkened and kids began being picked up by our parents, we’d make our way inside to play video games or watch movies. It was uneventful for the most part.
Things picked up in the summer though. With school being out and longer days being spent at the Rec Center, we found ourselves doing all sorts of fun activities. One of my first events with the Rec Center was an hour-long bus ride across Orlando to the dollar theater where we watched Jurassic Park. Other days were spent at Water Mania, a local water park.
The skating rink was a huge attraction for the kids and teenagers on base, and it was packed on Friday and Saturday nights. But the rink was closed during the day, so as the hot summer days raged on and the number of kids who attended the Rec Center grew, we’d participate in events inside the more spacious skating rink.
One memorable event was bike week. Someone brought in two motorcycles and all of us kids got to sit on the bike while Polaroids were taken of us. Then we watched various motorcycle-themed movies such as The Dirt Bike Kid.
Another event included a roller-skating tournament that I’ve previously written about here: Rec Center Memories: Moment of Glory.
Sadly, I’ve forgotten more than I remember about my time at the Rec Center. I do know after that first summer, my Dad let me stay at home while my little brother still attended during the summer. I would join my brother on the fun activity days like trips to the water park, much to the envy of the rest of the attendees.
The Rec Center wasn’t always fun, and it could be boring at times, but I have nothing but good memories about the time I spent there. It helped me get acclimated to a new town and introduced me to things I would have normally never experienced. Sadly, the Navy Training Center was closed in 1995 and the land was turned into Baldwin Park, an upscale housing and shopping district.
The Rec Center and skating rink were torn down in the 90s and Water Mania was closed in 2005.
Pretty much no evidence of my childhood exists anymore in Orlando outside of my memories of those hot summer days laughing and smiling.
You can find Brandon discussing the 80’s, 90’s, and other fun stuff at MiddleAgedFatKids.xyz
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