The squeals of delight emanating July 20 from the pools and slides at the Big Splash were counterbalanced by an ominous roar coming from the rear of the swim facility.
That sound was coming from Rita the Raptor, who was paying a visit courtesy of Cleveland-based Spectacular Party Entertainment as part of the facility's Theme Thursday series.
In celebration of Dinosaur Day on July 20, youngsters were able to meet Rita, portrayed in costume with roaring sound effects by a performer with Spectacular Party Entertainment, and Trixie the Triceratops while learning about dinosaurs.
Theme Thursdays are held each week from noon to 5 p.m.
Each event includes crafts and games and a guest related to that week's theme, said Addie Metzger, event coordinator for the Big Splash.
"We try to plan something really fun for the kids each week, and we include an educational component when we can," Metzger said.
Previous Theme Thursdays have included Fire Safety Day, which included a visit from Jackson Township Fire Department firefighters and a fire engine; Police Day, in which Grove City Division of Police officers brought a cruiser and youngsters participated in safety-theme activities; and Pirate Day, which included a treasure hunt.
"It's really a family-friendly program, but we draw mostly kids from about age 2 to 10," Metzger said.
The attendance for each Theme Thursday varies and is always in competition with the pool and water slides that are the main attraction at the Big Splash, said Ian Stasko, an assistant manager at the swim facility.
A new spray pad added at the zero-depth end of the pool has been popular with youngsters, Stasko said.
The spray pad features about 30 nozzles spraying water at various heights.
"It's been a big hit, and of course, the slides are always popular," Stasko said.
While some youngsters approached Rita without fear at the July 20 event, others seemed a little nervous and jumped whenever the raptor roared.
Abby Grooms, 7, of Grove City admitted she was a little frightened of Rita.
Abby said she comes to the Big Splash about three times each week.
"It's so much fun," she said. "I like splashing in the water and going down the slide. That isn't as scary as the dinosaur."
Nine-year-old Donivan Mosley of Columbus also admitted he was "a little nervous" about meeting Rita.
"I like dinosaurs, so it was cool to see one up close," Donivan said.
Presley Smith, 6, of Grove City, wasn't phased at all by Rita, whose visit coincided with his first trip to swim facility this summer.
"I can't wait to go down the slide," Presley said.
The Theme Thursday program will run through Aug. 17.
Upcoming themes will include Under the Sea Day on July 27, featuring a visit at 2 p.m. by a mermaid; Bug Day on Aug. 3, with a visit at 1 p.m. by "The Bug Guy" from Bugman Education; and Throwback Thursday on Aug. 10 with games and crafts relating to a different decade each hour.
The series will wrap up with Zoo Day on Aug. 17 as animals from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium stop by at 2 p.m.