Some say Senior Week can have more serious consequences. Officials in South Bethany, Del., where some Landon parents had rented a home for their sons' celebrations, criticized such practices.

Gansler, who has advocated for stricter penalties for underage drinking, said he stopped briefly at the party. He initially said he didn't think it was his place to investigate if the kids were drinking or to stop them from doing so, but subsequently said that was a mistake on his part.

The large home rented for the Landon group sits at the end of a quiet residential street; to the rear is a channel where small boats can sidle up against docks.

Barbara Sears, 59, who lives across that channel, remembers the Landon group well: "It was a really wild week."

She didn't call police because her adult sons advised her not to be "that neighbor."

"OK, don't be the old Gladys Kravitz of the street," Sears remembers thinking, referring to the nosy neighbor from the TV show "Bewitched." Besides, the party seemed "pretty much contained" from the rear of the house, she said.

Nearby Dewey Beach, Del., increasingly draws the high school graduation crowd as well — often from Bethesda, as were the Landon graduates.

Sgt. Clifford Dempsey, a spokesman for the Dewey Beach Police Department, will visit four schools in that Washington suburb in a tour of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware he's taking this winter to warn students and parents about the potential dangers of Senior Week.

"We don't paint a pretty picture of what Beach Week is about," said Dempsey, noting that his town can attract 20,000 to 40,000 revelers in June. He warns parents that, unlike in a school or home setting, beach resorts are not set up to play parent to their kids.

"We try to advocate full parental involvement, to the parents' ability," he said, with parents staying in the rental unit with the kids if possible, or nearby. He also recommends that parents write a contract outlining acceptable behavior and activities for their kids to sign.

The Landon parents drew up such a document, forbidding hard liquor and drug use but leaving beer and wine unaddressed. Dempsey said all alcohol should be off the table.

"This is not a political issue, it's a parenting issue," said Scornaienchi of HC DrugFree. "I think Gansler and the other parents sent the wrong message to their kids — they told them it's OK to break the law.

"I think it's possible for kids to go to Senior Week and not drink, but there is a lot of pressure on them," she said. "There are so many other activities in Ocean City for them, and they're free."

The Maryland resort town offers alcohol-free alternatives through its Play it Safe program.

The program started 25 years ago after tragedies involving students, including the murder of a girl and several kids falling from a balcony, said chairwoman Donna Greenwood. Some 10,000 to 15,000 kids have participated in free events such as basketball tournaments, moonlight bowling and pizza-eating contests.

Despite such efforts, kids often arrive with their own stashes of alcohol or find something of an underground economy in Ocean City, where adults will buy the liquor for them and charge a $10 or $15 fee, council member Ashley said.

Some, like Ashley, believe that too many parents want to be friends with their kids rather than discipline them. "We had occasions when the parents would back up the car [to a rental] and unload the beer," he said. Ashley interceded and told the parents to stop.

Dr. Victor Gong has seen the consequences — for the past 25 years, he has stitched up the teens and tended to other injuries at the 75th St. Medical Center in Ocean City.

The kids usually show up in groups, sometimes just for sunburns or other minor injuries, but other times dragging a friend who is severely dehydrated, passed out or worse from drinking, Gong said.

"You'll have guys getting jealous of their girlfriends, put their hands through the window," he said.