The blue 1987 Chevrolet Camaro decked out for yesterday's Howard High School homecoming parade hadn't gone far before something resembling smoke started seeping from under the hood and the students inside rushed to evacuate.
Down came the tissue paper flowers. Off went the grass skirt. Left in a heap nearby was the furry lion -- Howard's mascot -- that had been perched on top. One resident along the parade route even offered a fire extinguisher, just in case.
As it turned out, the "smoke" was steam; the car had overheated. Not that the mishap was seen as an omen.
"We're still gonna win" the football game, said Catherine Phillips, 16, a junior representing the school's dance company in the parade.
Howard High, at 48 years the oldest high school in the county, held its annual homecoming yesterday, an event expected to draw between 2,000 and 2,500 people.
The sunny day, which brought together current and former students, including members of the undefeated 1974-1975 football team and the newest inductees into the Athletic Hall of Fame, centered around the much-hyped football game between the Howard Lions and the Oakland Mills Scorpions.
But, like any homecoming, the day wasn't just about football.
"It's about alumni returning, it's about the student involvement and it's about tradition," said Mary J. Day, principal of the Ellicott City high school since 1995. "The football game is the highlight of the day for some, but for some the highlight is the [homecoming] dance.
"So people are celebrating for different reasons. This is an opportunity for the entire school community to get involved."
For the two dozen girls on Howard's varsity cheerleading squad, the day started around 5: 30 a.m. Their job was to decorate the stadium, the grandstands and the football players' locker room.
Safely accomplishing the latter required some extra supplies: namely, air freshener.
"We've got to stay in there long enough, and the locker room's not smelling too fresh," said Adriane Carozza, captain of the cheerleading squad and co-president of the Student Government Association.
This year's homecoming theme was "Party in Paradise." Perched atop a surfboard on the senior float, Melissa Brosk, 17, celebrated with her beachwear-clad classmates, who were dancing and whooping around her.
"I've surfed before, so I knew how to balance, so they kind of just elected me," said Brosk, of Columbia, who is hoping to attend the University of Tennessee next year.
If nothing else, the junior class' float was the biggest: an 18-wheeler flatbed truck teeming with beach chairs, balloons and screaming students.
Grant Scott, 27, a biology teacher who was the junior class "sponsor," kept pace on foot alongside the float, lending equal amounts of school spirit and supervision.
"Just making sure they don't fall off and kill themselves," he explained over the truck's deafening honk.
The week leading up to yesterday's festivities -- capped by the homecoming dance last night -- was full of preparation and youthful pep.
Monday was "Twin Day," a time to coordinate outfits. Tuesday was "Pajama Day," where sleepwear was in order. For Wednesday's "Hat Day," students donned all manner of hats (normally prohibited by school rules). Thursday was "Hawaiian Day," where leis and hula skirts -- and boys with faux coconut chests -- were in vogue. Friday was "Blue and White Day," in recognition of the school's colors.
Day said some staff members got into the homecoming preparations with as much fervor as the students.
"We had one teacher, I almost wanted to send him home," she said, referring to a foreign-language instructor adorned, among other things, in a hula skirt. "He had shorts on under, I had to look."
Thursday night, students from each class had five hours to decorate their respective hallways -- and clean up whatever mess they made in the process.
The freshmen decorated theirs like Hollywood, or "Howardwood," with paper stars hanging from the ceiling and taped to the floor. The sophomores went with an underwater theme, with bluish lighting and colorful fish.
The junior class chose "Blair Witch." Fictitious "Wanted" posters for three students who disappeared while filming a documentary at Howard were taped to the walls (among them, Bob Fresch-Mann and Sophie Moore). Eerie twig figures and shoots of ivy -- clipped from a student's yard because it was too expensive to buy -- added to the atmosphere.
The senior class, by far the most boisterous, chose a boisterous theme: "Austin Powers."
On a tour of school grounds Thursday night, Vice Principal Pamela O'Donnell got a chance to preview the decorations.
"You're gonna have to get rid of 'Kill the Mill,' " she told a student painting the freshman mural -- in the dark -- on a wall behind the football field.
By yesterday, though, that phrase -- referring to opponent Oakland Mills -- was written on floats, cars and balloons. On the sophomore float, one student dressed as a chef roasted a big orange scorpion on his grill.
As part of yesterday's festivities, the 1974-1975 championship football team and the newest Hall of Fame inductees were honored. One of the honorees, Gail Purcell, Class of 1970, has never strayed far from her alma mater: She's been a field hockey, basketball and lacrosse coach at Centennial High School for more than 20 years.
During halftime, Amy Rappaport was crowned homecoming queen, and star football player Gerald Smith was named king.
"[Homecoming] means a lot to a lot of different people," said Day, the principal. "To me, it's baby-sitting, supervising [and] security, but it's fun. I enjoy it, because the kids get to see us in a different light."
Phillips, by the way, turned out to be right about the Camaro mishap. It wasn't an omen after all. The Lions won the football game, 20-7.
Pub Date: 10/03/99