Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 12

March 21-27, 2002

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In the Year of the Terrapin, Tracing Testudo the Terp’s Roots
For good luck, students streaming past the school’s library to Cole Field House for Maryland basketball games rub the nose of Testudo the Terrapin. Next season, Testudo will find a new home outside the newly built Comcast Center.
photo by Amy Mulligan

Never has there been a better time to be a Terrapin. An Orange Bowl appearance in January and continued success in the NCAA basketball tournament this month have made the phrase “Fear the Turtle” the student body mantra. But it begs a key question: What exactly is so ferocious about a terrapin?

Most mascots are larger-than-life, fear-inspiring symbols: the Wolfpack, the Wildcats, the Titans. So how is it that Testudo the Terrapin came to represent the University of Maryland?

The mascot has been something of an enigma over its 70-year history. The Terps were actually the Aggies in the beginning, because the University of Maryland was an agricultural school.

Next the teams became the Old Liners, in reference to Maryland’s state nickname, The Old Line State. But that changed in 1932, when football coach Curley Byrd recommended that the diamondback terrapin become the official mascot of the university.

Why the terrapin? It is the Maryland state reptile and one of few animals that can only be found near Chesapeake Bay. Byrd was from Crisfield, a town famous for its terrapins.

Athletes seem to agree with the choice. Zach Rhoad, a senior rugby player from Westminster, likes having a mascot that is unique to the state.

“Having the terrapin as a mascot is special. It’s an animal that is indigenous to Maryland, and since we are the flagship university, everything about our school should reflect our state’s characteristics. It’s especially personal when you were born in Maryland and you represent it everyday,” he said.

The choice of mascot makes sense, but why the mascot was named Testudo is surrounded with mystery.

“There are many different stories behind the name Testudo. No one really knows for sure,” said Pranav Saha, one of three coordinators for the campus tour group, Maryland Images.

One theory is that the name derives from the scientific classification for turtle, testudines. More specifically, the name may have been borrowed from testudo gigantia, a species native to the African country Seychelles and the remote island Aldabra. Finally, the word testudo itself derives from the Latin word for a shelter, similar to a tortoise shell, used by Roman soldiers to protect their heads.

Whichever theory students believed, it was not long before they embraced Testudo.

The class of 1933 decided that its class gift should bring Testudo to life. On May 23, 1933 — well before the costumed version familiar at games and events came to campus in the 1970s — a 300-pound bronze statue of a diamondback terrapin was unveiled. Its original perch was outside Ritchie Coliseum. But this open spot soon became the site of crimes against Testudo, the most famous being his 1947 kidnapping by Johns Hopkins students.

Testudo soon found a more central location on campus in front of McKeldin Library, where he’s been ever since. Security was also beefed up. Testudo was filled with 700 pounds of cement and attached to a base with steel rods and hooks.

The statue also became the centerpiece for one of the campus’s oddest and most enduring myths. Testudo’s nose is extremely shiny: Rubbing it is supposed to bring good luck, especially on exams.

According to Saha, the myth is backed up. When McKeldin Library was being renovated, scaffolding was placed near Testudo, blocking access to his nose. The story says that during this time the campus-wide GPA dropped by one-tenth of a point. After a petition by students to back up the scaffolding, the grade point average is said to have risen.

More recently, beginning in the early 1990s, students have left food, cigarettes, beer, soda, poems, computer disks, candy, jewelry and money as offerings for good grades at exam time.

Other legends surround Testudo. It is a well-known fact at the University of Maryland that when a virgin graduates from the school, Testudo will sprout wings and fly away.

Testudo’s head is noticeably cocked to the side. He is said to be looking down McKeldin Mall toward the administration building, “looking out” for the students.

Such stories make the terrapin a lively mascot, but how do athletes feel about being identified as turtles?

According to Vicki Brick, a junior womens basketball player, the terrapin is just as ferocious as other mascots.

"I love being a Terp. What most people don’t realize is that terrapins are feisty once you get them mad. Their snap is pretty serious,” she said, noting another advantage as well. “So many names are duplicated, but there’s only one Terrapin.”

It seems the athletes have made the most of people’s low expectations of a turtle. The Terrapin men’s basketball team is looking for continued success in March Madness and a trip back to the Final Four.

They have already this season walked through heaven, trouncing the Siena Saints, and taken on hell, beating the Duke Blue Devils. Now 15 other teams in the Sweet 16 are realizing what it means to fear the turtle.

Bring on the Wildcats.

—Amy Mulligan

Gas on the Bay Wins Influential Friend

The continuing saga of the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Plant in Lusby can now add U.S. Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, Maryland’s environmentally friendly Republican, to its list of supporting characters.

At issue is the reactivation of the 1,000-acre shipping terminal just three miles south of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

“I would live next to that facility,” Gilchrest said this week. “It is safer than a facility that offloads crude oil, or any other energy source, by 1,000 percent.”

On March 12, Gilchrest spent three hours touring the plant, often by bicycle. Along for the ride were staffers from the offices of Congressmen Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin. The group had been invited by the Tulsa-based Williams Co., the firm that bought the plant — known to fishermen as the Gas Docks — in June, 2000.

“Most people don’t understand how safe liquefied natural gas is,” said plant manager Michael Gardner. “We wanted them to see that we’ve anticipated any accident and that the damage would stay within the property.”

“I wanted to see for myself,” Gilchrest said.

Williams plans to pump more than $120 million into reactivating and refurbishing the plant, which would also provide more than 60 new jobs and add more than $2 million in tax revenue to Calvert County. But there are concerns that the economic benefits don’t outweigh the security risks, especially with a nuclear power plant as a neighbor.

Calvert County is another player with much to gain if the plant gets back in business.

Commissioner Bobby Swann, who represents the Lusby district, said he would welcome the plant’s revenues, but many of his constituents are concerned about the safety issues.

Gilchrest “is very high on the list of people who have control, and he’s very big environmentally,” Swann said. But in spite of the congressman’s optimism, he remained concerned. “If the Coast Guard comes in and says it can be done safely, then I guess I’ll end up supporting it — unless something else comes up,” Swann said.

The Coast Guard is still evaluating the reactivation proposal. A meeting is scheduled with state and federal agencies “to examine and address contingency and emergency response plans,” Lt. Comdr. Brendan McPherson said.

Gilchrest professes himself already convinced. Plans to refurbish the four storage tanks and reactivate the offshore unloading facilities will, he said, provide “a clean energy source where security provisions are excellent.”

He also accepts Williams’ evaluation that the tankers — typically 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide — are safe. “One hundred percent of the ships have double hulls separated by 10 feet, which is better than oil tankers,” the congressman said.

They’ll dock at a pier 1.5 miles offshore that is connected to the plant by an underwater tunnel. That part of the operation the touring party saw for themselves.

“We road a bike through the tunnel all the way out to the pier,” Gilchrest said. “It was a lot of fun. I felt like I was 15 years old again, escaping from school in the middle of the day.”

As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Gilchrest calls himself “a tiny cog in the process.” But he presumably has the power to halt the company’s plans to upgrade and reactivate offshore unloading facilities. So his endorsement was good news to officials at the Williams Company, who have been working for months to get the go-ahead from federal agencies.

Williams also pledged to continue a unique partnership with the environmental community that began when the plant opened in the early 1970s. “We have a contract agreement with the Sierra Club and the Maryland Conservation Council that will preserve the surrounding area as a nature reserve,” Gardner said.

Gilchrest called the contract “a far-reaching and visionary agreement” that addressed not only the environmental issues but also safety issues to the facility and the surrounding community.

“It included near foolproof safeguards to avoid any type of hazards to the environment or to the workers,” Gilchrest said, noting that out of 1,000 acres, only 150 acres will be disturbed. “The remaining 850 acres are for conservation,” he said.

Another character in the saga, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski remains unconvinced.

“If LNG tankers are allowed on the Chesapeake near Calvert Cliffs, a nightmare scenario could become a reality,” she said to the Senate in November. She later called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s green light “premature.”

Gardner said Mikulski is welcome to tour the plant. “We are working closely with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FBI, the Coast Guard. We’re touching all the bases to ensure within reason the safety of the plant and ships and the rest of the boating population,” he said. “What else can we do?”

What they’ll do next is introduce “new equipment to reduce air pollution” in a March 21 public hearing at Lusby High School, Gardner said. After a 30-day comment period, the Maryland Department of the Environment will evaluate the company’s request for a clean-air permit.

“It will probably be close to June,” Gardner predicted confidently, “before we can start construction.”

— Maggie Thomas

For Bay Blues Fest, Show Must Go On

The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival had to go on, according to its founder, for the sake of the charities it supports.

But it almost didn’t happen. Reeling from September 11 and the resulting state of the economy, the fifth annual festival was scheduled to be canceled.

Don Hooker, who started the festival in 1997 with support from his computer company, ADS Retail, says the decision to go on with the event was simple: “We did it because of the charities.”

Hooker said that without the festival, the Johns Hopkins Cleft and Craniofacial Center would not have been able to have their summer camp. Forty wishes would have gone ungranted for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic. Fifty Maryland athletes would not have been able to go to the Special Olympics.

Planning for the event, which also benefits We Care and Friends, usually begins in September, with artists booked early for the Saturday and Sunday lineups. With corporate sponsorship down, planning for the spring weekend — May 18 and 19 this year — started only in mid-February, after Hooker decided to support it out of pocket.

The late date has made planning harder, but, according to Chesapeake Bay Events coordinator Tina Bell, this year’s lineup is looking better than ever. Jerry Lee Lewis, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Wayne Shepard and Double Trouble will play.

With a line-up like this, Bell says the festival will be better than in past years, despite last-minute planning. “Every year it gets better and better. We have a different array of artists this year, and that will draw a bigger crowd,” she said.

Hooker agrees, though there’s still some help he’d like to get — from Mother Nature. “We couldn’t walk away from it,” he said. “We’re just gonna hope for good weather.”

— Amy Mulligan

Bad Golf for Good Kids

Want to make big bucks on the PGA Tour? Even Tiger Woods or David Duval had to start somewhere.

Northern Calvert Rotary Club hopes four or five dozen duffers will get their start or start their season at the club’s annual spring indoor golf tournament this weekend. You don’t have to be a Rotarian or a golfer to come. “The only requirement is to have fun,” says club president John Smith.

Players will take putters in hand and stroke their way through the maze of 18 golf holes. Each of the holes is unique, with its own set of hazards, traps and other difficulties.

While the play may not be good, the cause is. Rotary hopes to raise more than $3,500 from the event, with all earnings going to the Bayside Boys and Girls Club in North Beach.

In that supervised, secure setting, children use their after-school free time to fine-tune their computer skills or work on homework.

Many children who are members of the club will attend the golf tournament, together with their parents.

Who knows? Maybe in the next decade we will see one of these beginners on the PGA Tour, hoisting the victory prize and flashing that million dollar smile.

Get your start or your season’s start Saturday, March 23, at Northeast Community Center in Chesapeake Beach: $35 w/discounts: 410/257-0227.

— Dick Wilson

Way Downstream …

West of here in Frederick, Mayor Jennifer Dougherty is warning developers that they’d better forget about building until it rains and rains some more. The city’s water shortage is becoming critical as drought persists and the levels of the Monocacy River and Lake Linganore decline from over-building …

In Virginia, the Nature Conservancy announced that it has reached agreement to buy a huge swath of forest land — over 9,000 acres of forest land that stretches across Appalachian ridges near the border with West Virginia. The price? $6.3 million …

Along the Potomac River, Maryland and Virginia both lifted bans on harvesting oysters after toxins from an algae bloom finally disappeared. The problem was related partly to high levels
of salinity due to lack of rainfall …

In Iowa, students at Iowa State University must need cash. They’re being paid $8 an hour to smell air samples from hog farms in a project to determine how well deodorizers work, the Des Moines Register reported...

Our Creature Feature comes from Hinckley, Ohio, where, it can be reported, spring arrived a tad early this year. Folks didn’t need a calendar to see the season change; they simply looked skyward and witnessed the return of the buzzards.

For decades, the buzzards — actually turkey vultures — have showed up in Hinckley this time of year, aware by instinct that critters will be coming out of hibernation. Some will wind up as roadkill, offering themselves as lunch to the carrion eaters. It’s not exactly Punxsutawney Phil or the swallows of Capistrano, but 300 people were on hand at 6:21am last Friday when the ugly birds set down in Ohio at, where else, Buzzard Roost.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly