BLUFFTON, Ohio - Debbie Garlock clearly enjoyed watching her son and his buddies paint their names in huge, bright letters on College Avenue last night.
A 1974 Bluffton High School graduate, Mrs. Garlock was not allowed to take part in what's been a senior ritual in Bluffton for decades.
"They used to sneak out at night and do it," she recalled. "You'd wake up one morning and it had magically appeared."
These days, the sanctioned graffiti still appears one day each spring, but things are a bit less clandestine.
Police close the street. Adults keep an eye on who is painting what, and seniors have to keep their artwork on the pavement - no sidewalks, buildings, or signs are to be touched.
The youths don't mind the regulations.
"We don't really care as long as we get to do it," said Heather Carmach, who was using leftover lavender paint from her friend's bedroom to block out some of the 2003 artwork that was still visible on the street.
"I've been waiting a long time for my turn," said Micah Boehr as he painted an abstract form that would soon be decorated with a bear - like his last name - his graduating year, and nickname.
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"It's fun. It's something you can't do everyday," he said.
"And it's a way to leave your mark."
With most of the 85 seniors wielding paintbrushes, by 7 p.m. the street in front of Bluffton High School had undergone an extreme makeover.
Adriene Gossard used bright red paint against a white background to spell out her name, her number in basketball, and '04 Hardcore.
"It's our year thing," she explained. "It rhymes. O-4 hardcore."
Adriene said she was excited about leaving her mark on College Avenue.
"It is so fun and you can only do it once legally," Adriene said.
Her younger sister, Karolyn, came along to watch. A seventh grader, Karolyn said she's looking forward to taking her turn with the paintbrush and roller.
"I'll do it in '09," Karolyn said.
The street-painting tradition in Bluffton - a town of 3,900 about 55 miles south of Toledo on the Hancock-Allen county line - dates at least to the mid-1960s, locals say, although it nearly saw its demise in 1996 when seniors got more than a little carried away - leaving their words and artwork on the school building, stop signs, curbs, and sidewalks.
Some of the graffiti was obscene.
"That's when people started complaining," recalled Police Chief Reid Foust.
He, along with school officials and Village Council, said at the time that enough was enough. There would be no more senior street painting.
But the class of '97 did not want to forgo what their parents and grandparents before them had done prior to graduation.
"They came to council, and we worked out a plan where they are allowed to paint from a certain point to a certain point," Chief Foust said.
"They're not allowed to paint anywhere other than on the street, and they have to use latex paint."
The town has not had a problem since.
Colin Dyck decided to paint a huge black-and-white bull's-eye as his contribution.
"I just did it because people will be like, "Wow, there's a bull's-eye in the middle of the street,'●" he said.
"A lot of people just paint their name, but a bull's-eye. "
In addition to the brushes and rollers borrowed from their parents' garages, some students used their hands and feet to personalize their artwork.
Beth Boehr, a middle school art teacher, gave her son a hand by drawing the bear on his design. She said the tradition is a fantastic form of artistic expression.
"I love it," she said. "It's like a country-fied New York kind of art."
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Debbie Garlock clearly enjoyed watching her son and his buddies paint their names in huge, bright letters on College Avenue last night. A 1974 Bluffton High School graduate, Mrs. Garlock was not allowed to take part in what's been a senior ritual in Bluffton for decades.