As high school state championships are contested across the state this month, fire trucks and police cruisers will wait for yellow school buses filled with victorious athletes and escort them back through their hometowns.

It’s a tradition in many communities, a slice of Americana often as memorable as the competition that precedes it.

“Sports are a little bit of the heartbeat of the town,” Yarmouth High athletic director Susan Robbins said, “so it’s a great thing to celebrate.”

Unless, of course, the celebrations get out of hand. That’s the concern for public safety officials in Cumberland, where Greely High won five state titles this winter and should contend for others in the coming weeks.

The victory parades went smoothly for boys’ and girls’ indoor track and girls’ ice hockey, but things became a little too festive on the evening of March 1 after both the girls’ and boys’ basketball teams won Class A state crowns.

Supporters of the teams spilled out of Portland and joined the caravan back through Cumberland, where Charles Rumsey, the town’s chief of police, took note of behavior such as:

Students standing up through sun roof openings or jumping on hoods of moving vehicles.

Fans (including adults) swarming school buses to slap hands with athletes reaching down from open windows.

Drivers at the rear of the caravan tailgating, cruising past stop signs and ignoring red lights.

“I realize this is a great tradition, and I risk being the least popular guy in town by talking about this,” said Rumsey, in his second year in Cumberland after a stint with the Waterville Police Department. “We want to keep doing this, but not at the risk of someone’s health.”

WARNING: CHANGES NEEDED

Within a week of the basketball celebration – and days before the Greely boys’ hockey team played in the Class B state title game – Rumsey and Fire Chief Daniel Small wrote a letter to the superintendent that included this warning: The grand tradition of these escorts must come to an end, unless immediate changes are made.

State titles for Greely High’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams were cause for celebration in Cumberland on March 1. But the police chief – knowing he risks “being the least popular guy in town” – says what happened when the teams and their fans paraded through town afterward can’t happen again.

“The problem isn’t really with the buses carrying the victorious students back to the school,” Rumsey said, “it’s with some of the vehicles that fall in behind us. And in those particular instances when there is a much larger crowd of both parents and youths, well, the more of them there are, the greater the likelihood that somebody makes a bad decision.”

Jeff Porter, the superintendent of School Administrative District 51, which covers Cumberland and North Yarmouth, shared the concerns raised by Rumsey and Small with the school community.

There hasn’t been a parade since the basketball tournament ended, because Greely’s hockey team lost in overtime to Old Town/Orono.

On Saturday, however, Greely will attempt to defend its Class B girls’ track and field state title in Dover-Foxcroft. The following Saturday, Greely could be in a similar situation with its girls’ tennis team.

So if Greely wins, will the Rangers have a homecoming complete with cherry tops and sleek machines?

“Nothing’s actually changed yet,” Porter said. “They were kind of putting people on notice that if things don’t improve, they would have to stop doing these. If we do win a state title in the next few weeks, my understanding is the parade would still happen.”

Indeed, Rumsey said his department will manage any future caravans differently so that private vehicles will not be part of the escort. Anyone other than the team should wait at the school for the bus to return.

‘IT’S A GREAT TRADITION’

Shane DeWolfe, a graduating senior, was a captain on the boys’ basketball team that won its second straight title. As a kid he saw similar parades for Greely champions and admired the athletes on the bus.

“It’s a gift to have the parades and it’s something you look forward to as a player,” DeWolfe said, noting he didn’t think this year’s crowd of well-wishers was much different than what he’d seen in 2017.

“I honestly don’t think they’d be able to take that tradition away,” DeWolfe said. “It’s a great tradition and it seems like making it safer is an easy fix. To take it away would be sad.”

As the head coach of Greely’s successful swim team, Rob Hale has been part of many a celebratory parade back to school.

“It’s quite spectacular,” said Hale, who also serves as head coach of the softball team. “It never gets old.”

Swimmers, he said, are usually too tired to hang out bus windows, and most of the spectators at swim meets and track meets are parents.

“With basketball, there’s a lot more kids and teenagers around the parades,” he said. “I totally agree with the letter because I’ve seen a number of parades, either as a coach or as a spectator, and it is out of hand. It’s dangerous.”

Hale said he’s never talked to his athletes about the proper way to act on a bus involved in a parade, but that perhaps a word or two about safety and common sense might be in order. The only other issue he has encountered, he said, was the use of sirens if the bus returns at a late hour.

‘ITS A GREAT PROBLEM TO HAVE’

Yarmouth tradition calls for a police cruiser to escort the bus back through town, and Robbins said occasionally the bus will have to wait for a cruiser to get free.

When Kennebunk won consecutive state titles in girls’ lacrosse, the bus driver made sure to exit in Biddeford in order to meet police and fire trucks at the Arundel border on Route 1 for a parade back to the high school.

In Cape Elizabeth, Chief of Police Neil Williams said fire trucks only escort the school bus from the town line to the high school and that there are never sirens used on public roads. If the hour is reasonable, he said, the sirens are turned on at the school.

“It’s pretty low-key,” Williams said. “We haven’t had any problems.”

Eric Curtis, athletic director at Bonny Eagle, has helped organize escorts for state champions in cross country and football during his three years.

No one is allowed to ride on top of a moving vehicle or run into the road as the caravan passes.

“The three that I have been a part of have been pretty tame so far,” Curtis said. “Many of the parents line the streets outside the high school and wave as the players come onto school grounds. Our four towns (Standish, Buxton, Hollis and Limington) have been very supportive of the celebrations.”

Of course, there is an alternative. Don’t win so much.

Said Robbins, the athletic director at Yarmouth: “It’s a great problem to have.”

Staff Writer Steve Craig contributed to this story.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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