OCEAN CITY — It's midmorning, a time when many high school seniors still are buried in blankets in motel rooms and beach houses, not even contemplating rising before the noon hour.
But not the five Carroll County graduates spreading towels on the beach off 18th Street.
These Francis Scott Key High School graduates are in their swim suits, bright-eyed and eager to soak rays and test the surf.
This is, after all, "Senior Week," the annual ritual that brings thousands of Maryland high school seniors to the shore.
"It's all we've thought about since the day we started high school," says a slightly tanned Cathy Coale, who is staying with her friends in a beach cottage a block from the boardwalk. "It's tradition. Everybody comes here."
Not everybody comes here with their mother, though.
Yes, Cathy andher four friends have taken a less-traveled road to "Senior Week" inOcean City.
They have come with chaperons -- chaperons who insisted on obedience to several rules, filled-out medical forms and written parental consent.
"They're like cool," says Tina McAulay, whose mother, Kathy Gesell, has accompanied the group. "They're very reasonable."
Adds Celena Welty, whose mother, Bonnie, is the other chaperon, "They're with the times."
Being with the times means the graduates have to call the chaperons between midnight and 1 a.m. if they intend on staying out later. Other rules include: "No drugs," "If youmake a mess, you must clean it up" and "No smoking."
"They pickedus as chaperons," insists Gesell, a Taneytown day-care provider. "Actually, they're pretty good kids. We haven't had any problems.
"Wediscussed all this before they came, and they had to agree to the rules. If they didn't, they couldn't come."
Like other "June bugs," as the locals call the annual senior invaders, the FSK youths have spent their days taking in area attractions -- including go-karts, miniature golf, roller-coaster rides, ice skating, the boardwalk, beach time and dinner at Phillips.
About 230,000 people have come here this second week of June, up from about 190,000 the week before, said Leslie Craigle, a public relations representative for the Ocean City Department of Tourism. She did not know how many, however, were seniors.
"The (overall season) numbers are down a little bit from last year," Craigle says. "Even so, it seems like there are more people here. Businesses are as happy as can be."
Cathy, her friends and chaperons will spend well over $2,000 for the week here. They've pitched in $425 to rent a three-bedroom cottage. The girls and mothers have taken the bedrooms and the boys, Chris Zinn and Jason Nunnelee, share a sofa bed in the living room.
Each has come with about $200 to $300 in spending money. Besides spending money on activities, they've bought clothes, souvenirs and groceries.
"They've talked about thisfor six months," says Welty, an executive housekeeper at Western Maryland College. "They're a great group of kids. They're having a greattime."
Gesell says she had no qualms about the possibility of letting her 17-year-old daughter come to Ocean City alone until they arrived. Now, she would have second thoughts.
"A lot goes on here," she says.
The June bugs
As the waves of cars with "Ocean City Bound" or "Ocean City Here We Come" written in white shoe polish on hoods and trunks arrive, disorderly conduct arrests increase significantly, says Jay Hancock, a public information officer with the Ocean City Police Department.
"They're like June bugs, they swarm and invade," Hancock says. "Most of them do not get in trouble. Most of them don't get hurt.
"They usually go home with nothing more than aT-shirt and a sun tan."
But there is a smaller, more noticeable group of youngsters who come to Ocean City and carry their partying toan excess. They get noisy and disorderly. They often can be seen hanging over balconies along the boardwalk, yelling at passers-by.
"Agood portion of that is related to alcohol consumption," Hancock says. "It's alcohol they frequently bring with them from home.
"I don't think too many kids come to Ocean City and have their first beer or marijuana or crack. I think their behavior reflects their behavior at home -- but maybe carried out to a greater degree."
The most common arrests are for disturbing the peace, noise and disorderly conduct. The latter can mean up to 10 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. There also are plenty of motor vehicle violations, mostly speeding and minor accidents.
Hancock says the Class of 1991 has been atypical. There have been no unfortunate accidents so far this June.
In previous years, it has not been uncommon to have seniors jumping off balconies into pools or to the beach and sustaining serious injuries.
"Part of the problem lies with parents who send their kids to Ocean City to have a good time and do things they would not allow them todo at home," Hancock says.
Helping turn the tide of youth problems that have plagued the resort in recent years have been activities planned by Ocean City officials, the Worcester County Health Department, businesses and community organizations.
"There's been a quite of number of activities," says tourism spokeswoman Craigle. "These areaimed at trying to give kids an alternative to drinking -- to give them something to do so they don't start looking too hard for alcohol and other things."
The activities have included several non-alcoholic parties, such as a recent graduation gathering at Hooper's Crab House, where seniors were served munchies, offered door prizes and music by a local disc jockey.
Scattered in motels, restaurants and other spots throughout the city are florescent pink booklets -- "Play It Safe in Ocean City, Class of 1991" -- containing information about local laws, beach safety, safe sex, alcohol and drug abuse, discount entertainment coupons, emergency numbers and lists of activities.
At Bethany Beach
In a beach house several miles from the condominiums and motels in Ocean City, a group of 10 Westminster High School graduates has spent "Senior Week" away from the crowds, but not away from shenanigans and parties.
While the Delaware resort is more tranquil than its southern resort neighbor, there were hints here that life was, well, a little spicier here.
"It's a sad morning," observes Ryan Kimble as he passes one of his house mates playing a beer-drinking game called "quarters" for a Coke.
His other bunk matesare dishing out ravioli and Doritos for lunch.
"We've been havinga lot of fun," said Andy Ingalls, whose parents own the beach house."We've been to the beach playing volleyball. We haven't been doing alot of sleeping."
Sleep has been in short supply since these guys-- all of whom played sports like football and lacrosse at Westminster High -- arrived the day after graduation. Sleep, though, has been in short supply since their prom earlier this month.
"It's just been one party after another," quips one of the guys, lounging in the living room area on the second floor of the beach house.
"The firstday here we got up pretty early," recalls Charles Crum, a 17-year-old Finksburg resident. "It's gotten worse since then."
"Yeah, but you nap five hours a day, Charlie," someone notes.
Although these seniors are off the beaten path, they have been with other WHS graduates and seniors from other Carroll high schools.
"We've been hanging out with friends on the beach," says Mike Livingston, an 18-year-old Hampstead resident.
They've heard tales of "Senior Week" in Ocean City for years. Some friends opted to go to Michigan, but these guys were intent on a week at the beach house.
"This is a big tradition," says 17-year-old Ryan. "We had to come down here and do everything our parents tell us not to."
They've all called their parents since their arrival. They were sent to the ocean with food, including home-cooked meals like meatloaf. Their only real complaint was havingto do their own laundry.
For these guys, though, the week at the beach is a last opportunity to spend some time together before they all go off to college in the fall.
Andy has an ROTC scholarship andwill attend the University of Delaware in the fall. Charles plans togo to Waynesburg College, Waynesburg, Pa. and Mike will attend Lee College, Cleveland, Tenn. Others will go to Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Frederick County; the University of Maryland at CollegePark, Prince George's County, and Western Maryland College.
"Thisa chance to spend time with good friends," says David Spear, who plans to pursue a degree in engineering at UM. "We're going to remember this the rest of our lives."
At a motel
On the third-floorbalcony of the Riviera, a motel just off the Ocean City boardwalk around 26th Street, Stacey Carmack and her friends are eating homemade spaghetti with bread.
They are sitting on the cement floor, overlooking an in-ground pool and the motel parking lot.
"I didn't thinkI was going to be able to talk my dad into letting me go, especiallybecause we were staying with guys," says Stacey, a 17-year-old Westminster resident who plans to attend Carroll Community College in the fall. "But I did."
Lauri Bowen, also 17, said the "guys were for safety reasons."
"Our parents make us call home every day," Lauri said. "There's lots of security here.
"The office is always callingto see if we have guests. They've really been watching us."
For their week of fun, the Westminster High graduates have dished out $1,080 for their room, which includes a kitchenette.
In the few days they've been here, they've spent a couple of hundred dollars riding go-karts and water boats, playing miniature golf, seeing movies and getting their pictures taken.
Kris Kahn, a 1990 graduate of Westminster High School, is down to just 42 cents.
Not everything they do involves money, however.
"One night we played volleyball until 1 a.m.," says Lauri, who plans to attend Catonsville Community College. "Kris sings and plays guitar and everybody in the hotel comes up and joins us. We've gotten to know a lot of people."
The next day, theyare planning dinner at Phillips and a movie. That is one of the few things they have planned. The week has been without schedules, without routine.
"The first night it was real weird being without our parents," Lauri says. "It was really our first time without adults -- our first time for real independence."