Doug Gansler

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (white shirt with cell phone, right of center) is seen in a photo posted to Instagram from a senior week party in Delaware this summer. (October 23, 2013)

— Brent Ashley may have aged into the enforcer role at a certain point, but he still remembers when he was the miscreant.

"I was halfway up the stairs and felt the hand on my shoulder," Ashley said of the night about 40 years ago when he got kicked out of a motel for his own Senior Week infraction: trying to sneak a girl into his room.

A longtime rental property owner, and a city councilman in the beach town where thousands of high school graduates descend every June, Ashley, 62, views Senior Week the way many here do: as "a necessary evil."

"All the revenue we bring in is important to Ocean City," he said. "If you don't rent to young people in June, you aren't going to rent to anyone. The young people can be a pain, but you are cultivating the future guests. So you have to go with it a little bit."

For the stretch of beach towns running from Ocean City north into Delaware, putting up with rowdy teens means landlords, restaurants and stores can make thousands of dollars over a three-week stretch before family vacation season picks up.

The four- or five-decade-old tradition of "June bugs" swarming to the shore for a week of sun and not-always-legal fun is in the spotlight after photos emerged of Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who is running for governor, in the midst of a wild party thrown by Landon School boys in June.

The photos put in stark relief an uncomfortable truth: Many parents, property owners and other adults implicitly accept the underage drinking and largely unsupervised partying.

When the Gansler pictures went viral, Jayne Kaiser of Columbia told her 16-year-old daughter, "That's just one more reason why you're not going to Senior Week."

Kaiser, originally from Ohio, was alarmed to learn of this local tradition in which "it seems that the main activity was underage drinking." It also baffled her that so many other parents are just as disturbed by the week, but nonetheless sign rental leases for their kids and look the other way.

She and her husband took a different track, raising their daughter with the clear understanding that her high school graduation in 2015 would be celebrated some other way — perhaps by visiting the Austrian exchange student the family hosted last year.

"I feel sometimes I'm swimming upstream alone on this," Kaiser said. "But I have to do it anyway to present a consistent message with my child."

Senior Week creates problems for beach towns as well: the inevitable public drunkenness, damage to rental properties, and the potential for serious injury or even death. Alcohol, youthful indiscretion, motel room balconies and, most of all, the ocean make for a dangerous mix.

"You don't want them drinking and then later deciding to run into the ocean at night," said Joan Webb Scornaienchi, executive director of HC DrugFree in Columbia, which each year brings Ocean City police and beach patrol officers to speak to parents and teens about Senior Week safety.

Lt. Ward Kovacs of the Ocean City Beach Patrol can attest to the dangers: He remembers three boys driving up to the beach one year, hopping out and diving into the waves — leaving one with a broken neck.

"As I held his head to stabilize his neck," Kovacs said, "I could smell the beer on his breath."

Luckily, though, most of what Kovacs sees during Senior Week are pranks — kids seem drawn to abusing lifeguard stands, burying them in the sand and, once, piling six of them into a pyramid.

After sometimes-sheltered childhoods where even after-prom parties can be tightly scripted by parents, many teens come to the beach eager for a first taste of freedom. And most kids, of course, survive Senior Week largely unscathed, enjoying a last hurrah before childhood friends scatter to different colleges or workplaces.

"Best time of my life," said Samantha Halle, 19, now a Towson University student. She gets a dreamy look in her eyes remembering how two days after her graduation from Franklin High School in Reisterstown, she and seven friends headed down the ocean.

Halle said her parents "have a lot of trust in me" and just asked that she call once a day so they knew she was "alive and breathing." There was a lot of drinking at the hot-tub-equipped condo in Ocean City, and someone got thrown into the bay, but they did no damage to the rental or themselves, she said.

"It was just a lot of memories of being with your best friends and getting a chance to do rebellious things," Halle said. "We're still the best of friends and we wish we could do something like this again, but now that we're grown up, we all have different schedules."