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.