Late last fall, about half a year before the actual fun began, Landon ‘07 graduate Connor Riley said some of his friends were planning what they would do in early June. All the anticipation was for Beach Week — a ritual high school grads look forward to and parents and police sometimes dread.
"It was supposed to be a way to say goodbye to all of your friends after bonding with them all week," said ’07 St. Andrews graduate Alex Azzara, "but we ended up meeting many new people and had so much fun, so it actually made leaving that much harder."
In the weeks following graduation, it has become tradition for local high-school grads to flock to beaches nearby in Delaware such as Dewey, Bethany and Rehoboth, as well as to Ocean City, Md. Many rent houses, while others stay in smaller condo units or motels.
Most grads, including Azzara, had an incident-free Beach Week; it was common for students to have a chaperone at the beach.
BUT THE PRESENCE of a chaperone didn’t prevent trouble in every case. In Dewey last week, police busted a party and issued 36 citations for underage drinking, mostly to Walt Whitman High School grads.
"It was a sore note to end the trip on," said one Whitman graduate who was in the house. "We had such a fun week but it was a pretty low end, sort of a bad situation to be in."
Overall, though, Beach Week in 2007 was better behaved than in the recent past. Corporal Clifford Dempsey of the Dewey Beach Police Department said throughout the two main weeks of Beach Week, police arrested about 188 students, 96 of them for underage drinking and the rest were for disorderly conduct, littering, drug violations, resisting arrest and violating beach curfew. Three years ago, Dewey police arrested about 420 high-school graduates during a three-week period.
"BETHANY IS such a great beach to go to because so many kids from D.C. area schools go there which gives it a similar atmosphere as home but at the beach," said ’07 Holy Child graduate Morgan Hobbs, who stayed in a house with ten girls and no chaperone, and had a trouble-free week. She estimated about half her class at Holy Child also went to Bethany for beach week this year.
But even for these teens at Beach Week without chaperones right with them, there were parents nearby, because many other groups of students did have a chaperone at their house as a way to try to control any unexpected events.
Even for students who stayed without a chaperone on-site, the presence of other chaperones nearby kept things under control at Bethany, Azzara said.
"It was really controlled, there were a lot of chaperones. There were a couple of scares with big parties, but there were no really big incidents," said Azzara. "It was actually surprising because the groups of guys more often had chaperones than the girls."
Azzara stayed in a condo in Bethany with a few friends without a parent chaperones; her parents trusted that she would use good judgment.
"Of course I was a little bit nervous but I thought it would be a great experience for her," said Alex’s mother Cindy. "So we talked about using common sense and good judgment before she came to the beach, but I still wanted her to have a good time and experience the memories. In all, it was a good experience for her and I’m glad she was able to do it."
Vivey Chien, a Churchill ’07 graduate, spent the week in Dewey at a motel with 10 of her friends. Although they had no direct chaperone, her friend’s uncle was one of the motel managers and could supervise a little.
"It was great to get a chance to hang out with friends and not worry about anything," said Chien. "I had a lot of fun; it was a good way to see other people outside of school that you don’t normally see at home, as well as a good bonding experience with my close friends."
SINCE BEACH WEEK IS such a popular event, schools and parents often use the weeks before graduation to persuade the students to use good judgment in their first week of freedom.
Charlotte Fettridge, a ’07 Holton-Arms graduate, rented a beach house in Bethany with 20 girls for that week.
"Parents created a contract that each of us had to sign in order for us to be allowed to go. It said no parties in the house, and we agreed to a curfew." Said Fettridge. "We had three parent chaperones at all times throughout the week. Our parents took shifts." The week was a success.
Danny Hathway, a ’07 Georgetown Prep graduate, attended Beach Week in Bethany with six other graduates, and also had a parent chaperone for the week, and a problem-free beach week.
"We had a meeting with the chaperone and all the parents before we left for the beach. They set down some rules about being careful and looking out for each other," Hathway said.
"The chaperones set expectations before we went to Beach Week so we basically knew what was expected behavior during the week which kept people in line," said Riley, from Landon. "We were in at 1:30 every night, which was our curfew."
AT DEWEY BEACH, Cpl. Dempsey saw something he’d hoped he wouldn’t see — familiar faces. For four years, Dempsey has gone to Whitman late in the spring to speak to students and parents and educate them about the laws of Dewey Beach.
On Tuesday night June 13th, Dewey police issued citations for underage drinking to 36 high school seniors, mostly from Whitman. Several were also arrested for possession of marijuana. About 18 that were arrested were over 18 and 17 of them were under the age of 18. During the incident, one female student jumped out of a window and broke her ankle in an effort to escape from trouble, police said.
"It’s a shame that this happened given that we go to this school so often to speak. I hate to see people involved in this incident that were actually some of the kids we spoke to," said Dempsey, who did comment that the students were very polite throughout the ordeal and no one was overly intoxicated.
"So many people just showed up … and there was nothing we could do about it no matter how hard we tried not to let people in. The cops were there pretty fast," said a Whitman graduate who was at the party.
Police arrested 25-year-old Nino Marcantonio at the house on charges of endangering the welfare of a child, maintaining a dwelling for the use of illegal drugs, providing alcohol to an underage person, and disorderly use of a dwelling.
"Since we’ve been educating the parents we are starting to see more chaperones of houses during senior week. This is the first time I have seen a house with a chaperone and the kids were drinking and doing drugs," said Dempsey. "I was very surprised, you wouldn’t think it would happen here since the parents [trusted] this man to supervise their kids, I didn’t expect he would be aware of all of this going on, which made it a unique situation."