Invasion of the graduating classes Ocean City braces for the arrival of 'June bugs' At the BEACH

June 11, 1993|By Audrey Haar | Audrey Haar,Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City

A couple weeks ago, Ocean City residents started asking their friends and acquaintances, "Are you ready?"

Then last week in a West Ocean City drugstore, a customer confided to the cashier in a voice barely above a whisper, "I saw one today." She explained further, "I saw a car with a banner. It said 'Class of '93.' "

The cashier sighed, "Already?"

Yes, they're here. The annual invasion of the high school graduating classes, or "June bugs," as they are called in Ocean City, started last weekend, and many more are expected to swarm to the resort this weekend.

For the teens, it is a rite of passage and the last time to have fun with their school friends before making their way in the world.

Jennifer Wilson, 18, of Gambrills said coming to Ocean City was a big deal to many of her classmates at Arundel High School. "It's freedom to get away from your parents, and it's the last time you get to be with your class."

"We're drinking and having fun," said Craig Pool, 17, of Columbia, who recently graduated from Howard High School. "We have six guys in our place. We party just about every night."

Drinking and graduating seem to go hand in hand at the beach. Al Harrison of Harrison Apartments on Baltimore Avenue, who rents rooms to the teens, said most of the youngsters come to town well-supplied with liquor. "They drape a blanket over the cases and think nobody notices," he said. "I tell the kids to keep it inside and not throw beer on a policeman."

In an effort to warn their peers about the dangers of drinking and driving, Baltimore County and Washington-area members of Students Against Drunk Driving are joining with the Maryland State Police at a noon ceremony today at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Toll Plaza.

The state police and the Worcester County Sheriff's Office also have teamed up for "Operation June Bug Patrol" this month. Troopers and sheriff's deputies will step up patrols on roads leading into the resort, looking for youths who are drinking and driving or who are underage and transporting liquor.

In Ocean City, officials have been preparing for the onslaught of teens. For the fourth year, state, county and Ocean City groups have teamed up to produce a pocket-sized "Play it Safe" booklet that offers survival tips, drug and health information, and many free activities.

The blue books were distributed to all public and most private schools in Maryland, except in Baltimore City, which did not request them, said Marty Pusey, prevention coordinator for the Worcester County Health Department.

So far, the groups of graduates have been relatively quiet,

according to Ocean City Police Chief David C. Massey. "The true test will be this weekend when high tide arrives."

Chief Massey said full-time police officers are working overtime this month and eight administrative officers were added to the patrols. Most of the offenses by the young people are for public drinking, intoxication, noise violations and fights, he said.

Hotel owners who rent rooms to the graduates have learned never to say they've seen it all. Last year when one of the young people passed out, his buddies shaved his eyebrows off, Mr. Harrison said. In helping the new grads to safely survive their holiday, Mr. Harrison said, "I end up being an adviser and camp counselor."

Parents who are worried about their teens at the beach have a resource,too. A local volunteer organization, the Parent Network, helps out when parents can't reach their children and also offers a hand to distressed teens. Volunteers staff a 24-hour phone line: (410) 723-3700.

Lt. Edwin Lashley, commander of the Maryland State Police in Berlin, said parents are often aware that their underage children are drinking. "It has been my experience that when parents come to get their kids, 80 percent of the time they are not surprised that they were drinking."

"This is a year-round issue. It's not just a prom-night thing," said Michael Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse.

The problems also go beyond getting drunk. "Once they spend time drinking, we're looking at date rape, violence and fights that break out," Mr. Gimbel said.

"Parents are in an awful dilemma, because they know the kids are drinking. They say, 'We hope we taught them well and to know right from wrong.' Parents give a bit of a wink to alcohol and are grateful that it's not drugs. [The kids] have parents who grew up in the '60s and who did drugs and say they turned out all right," Mr. Gimbel said.

The only difference today is that the kids have more money and have cars, he said. "They are not drinking socially. They are drinking to get drunk," Mr. Gimbel said. "If parents think their kids are going to Ocean City and not drinking, they are pretty naive."

Amy Lettis, 18, of Crofton said her parents were concerned about her trip to the beach. "We had a big talk about drinking. They said to be really careful and go places with somebody."

But Jennifer Wilson's parents probably summed up the thought that is on most parents' minds when they told her: "Don't get arrested."

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