Six University of Maryland students were arrested yesterday and charged with theft and destruction of property for allegedly cutting down a 30-foot pine tree outside a greenhouse on the College Park campus, university police said.

Five of the youths are members of the wrestling team and one is a member of the baseball team, according to university police Sgt. Michael McNair.

The youths told police that it is a "campus tradition" for team members to cut university trees and bring them to their dorms at Christmas time, McNair said.

The athletes allegedly stole the tree on Dec. 12, when a University police officer stopped them as they were driving from the university in a truck containing the tree. They told the police officer that a friend had given them the tree, McNair said, but as a result of further investigation warrants were issued for their arrests.

The youths were identified as Daniel McGlasson, 20; Dante Desideria, 18; Matthew Rinaldo, 18; Anthony Joseph Russo, 18; Ronald White, 18; and Matthew Breitenbach, 18. All are residents of Ritchie Coliseum, a dorm on campus.

Each year, the University loses about 15 trees to students, McNair said, but the students rarely are caught. This year, 35 trees were removed from the campus. "How the other 34 walked away, I don't know," McNair said.

The six youths were released on personal bond yesterday in District Court in Hyattsville. If convicted each of the six could receive a maximum of 18 years.