A celebration of "senior cut day" was interrupted by rangers at Patapsco Valley State Park, who arrested 21 Catonsville High School students yesterday on charges of violating alcohol laws.
The tip leading to the arrests came from the school principal, Department of Natural Resources rangers said.
Principal Donald I. Mohler III said "cut day" is a rite of passage for graduating seniors across the country.
"Every year, school administrators negotiate with the seniors on which day they can have an unofficial holiday," Mr. Mohler said yesterday evening.
"Our kids made a great choice today," he said, citing the picture-perfect weather, "but a parent of one of the students called our school and said they saw a flier announcing a party at the park where alcohol was going to be consumed."
The rite of passage then took a back seat to averting the possibility of an alcohol-related tragedy, the principal said, and he notified the authorities.
Rangers went to the park about 11 a.m. and within 15 minutes discovered carloads of students arriving -- with alcohol concealed in their vehicles, they said.
Park rangers interviewed 37 young people at Pavilion 10, which had been reserved by one of the teen-agers for a $25 fee. Several of the youths told the rangers they each had paid $1 to attend the party, held in the Glen Artney area of the park near Ellicott City.
Eighteen of those arrested were juveniles, ages 14 to 17. Some were ninth-graders.
The other three suspects are 18-year-olds who live in the Catonsville area. They could be charged as adults with under-age possession of alcohol -- a misdemeanor carrying a maximum fine of $500 if they choose to appear in District Court rather than pay without contest a $50 penalty.
"I feel I took the correct action," said Mr. Mohler.
"But," he added, "I think we're going to have some unhappy parents."