The sirens blared and lights danced as a line of fire trucks rolled up a brief stretch of Interstate 83 before taking Mount Carmel Road on the way to Hereford High School.
School buses and cars followed close behind to form a lengthy caravan that made a ruckus. Horns honked, arms flailed out bus windows, and there was hooting and hollering and ear-to-ear grins. It may have stirred the tiny town of Parkton, but there was no need for alarm.
On that night last May, the Hereford boys lacrosse team won yet another state championship. As part of an ongoing tradition, the fire trucks provide an escort for the final leg of the team's trip home from UMBC with a tailgate celebration waiting at the school.
Coach Brian King said success comes in cycles and that his team "is riding a pretty good one right now."
Just how good?
Hereford set a state record with five consecutive titles when it beat Glenelg, 13-8, in last year's Class 3A-2A state championship. It was the Bulls' eighth overall state title, which tied them with Dulaney for the most in state history.
With the new season starting, Hereford's goal is the record-breaking ninth championship. But, first things first, and for the Bulls, that's always the next practice.
"We realize that we're not entitled to a state championship, so every practice has to be even more intense than the last one," All-Metro senior midfielder Jack Adams said. "Practices are game-like scenarios. The offense and defense go after it pretty hard, and it can become heated. But it's good competition and, at the end of the day, we all come together."
Adams surveyed a recent practice and estimated 75 percent of his teammates have been playing lacrosse together since they were 5 years old.
They are all good friends, and the tight bond keeps them from venturing off to any of the lacrosse-rich private schools. From the well-established recreation program to the junior varsity to the varsity is a ladder that Hereford kids dream to climb.
"Even though we don't have the glamour of being a private school and the chance to be the best team in the country, I don't think there's anything like what we have together," All-Metro second-team senior attackman Joe Seider said. "I guess I can't say there's nothing like it because I don't know what other schools do, but I know I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. This is great."
For Seider and the Bulls, "great" is going home after practice and finding a wall to fire off another 200 shots. It's cramming into King's office during lunch break for film study. It's coaching one of the recreation league teams and signing autographs for kids. It's having a tailgate after some practices or heading to Chipotle for a team meal.
"We've been able to keep the kids together, so at the end of the day, they're all playing for their buddies. The positive culture that is here is really important to our success," King said.
In his fifth year, King has compiled a 76-4 record, and he's never had to give the "we'll get them next year" speech after a loss to end a season.
And with experienced players at every position, the Bulls don't see that day coming anytime soon.
Adams provides a dominating two-way spark in the middle of the field, Seider is one of the area's top finishers, and the defense is in good hands.
How many public schools — or any schools, for that matter — have a goalkeeper who played in the Under Armour All-America underclassmen tournament and a second who made a commitment to Johns Hopkins as a junior?
Senior goalkeeper Conor Cunningham is a four-year starter, and Brock Turnbaugh takes over in the second half of games.
"Brian does a fantastic job. The kids trust him and they run his stuff to a T," Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker said. "The quality of players they get through the youth program at an early age, the connection they've made, is a huge difference from other places."
All the past success puts increased pressure on each senior class that passes through, but it also forces the entire team to work that much harder.
This year's group is set on following the fire trucks in May.
"I don't want to be that class that loses it," Seider said. "I've had three great years here already, but I want to leave saying my senior year was the best. I'm going to work hard and I know all the other seniors and everyone else will, too."