ELDERSBURG -- Chugging a beer while sitting in a hearse gave Steve Speck an eerie feeling.
The Liberty High junior and three classmates were making a "commercial" for a video, produced as part of the Prom Promise campaign. The promise is a pledge by students to celebrate the prom without alcohol and drugs.
The expressions on the faces of actors turned quickly from silly smiles to sobered stares, as an announcer said, "If you are going to drink and drive, make your reservations early."
They stopped their socializing, put down their beer cans and looked around, realizing they were in the curtained black vehicle.
"The whole idea really got through to kids," said Steve. "We all celebrated sober at our prom last month."
The somber video also helped put Liberty atop the heap among 20 schools competing for first place in a statewide competition sponsored by Nationwide Insurance Co.
Students, who did the writing and filming for the project, captured shots of their peers filling out pledges and asking each other to sign up.
They also filmed a lecture they gave to eighth-grade students at Sykesville Middle, and a visit from a victim of a drunken-driving accident. They got editing help from teacher Kathy Schnorr.
Senior Bill Reigle said the campaign, during which students collected the pledges from their classmates, heightened everyone's awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.
"Our prom was in Baltimore," he said. "It could have been bad, if there was drinking."
Of the 990-member student body, 955 signed pledges, earning the school 95.6 points in the two-part competition.
"Most signed the first day," said Bill. "It was just a matter of counting and catching up with absentees after that."
Steve said the few who didn't sign were "just being honest."
"We appreciated their honesty," he said. "They didn't come to the prom and drink, though."
In addition to the credit for signatures, the students earned another 27 points (out of a possible 35) for the video.
"You should be proud to be students at Liberty," said Helen Derwin, a physical education teacher who has helped students organize the campaign for four years now. "We defeated 19 other schools, one by only 0.6 percent. And wait until you see what we do next year."
First place brought a $3,000 prize, presented to the school at an assembly on Thursday.
Students hope to use the money to purchase video equipment for their school.
Gerry Eckenrode, a Nationwide Insurance agent attending the assembly, said the goal of the contest is "to see teen-agers stay safe, happy and healthy."
"We proved you can have a good time without alcohol," said Blake Beares, senior.