Testudo continues to spark fear and bring good luck
Opposing fans and players visiting the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., for a sporting event may fear the players in the Terps’ red, white, black and gold jerseys, but most of all, they fear the turtle.
The history of the Testudo dates back to 1932, when Curley Byrd, Maryland’s athletic director, president, football and basketball coach at the time, adopted the diamondback terrapin as the school’s official mascot. One year later, a live terrapin attached to ropes walked forward in front of Ritchie Coliseum, pulling a cover off of the 300 pound Testudo statue.
“Testudo is Maryland,” said David Ginsburg, a Maryland alum and current sportswriter for the Maryland Associated Press. “What I love about our mascot is that it is one of a kind. We’re not talking about a hundred different Wildcats or a bunch of Bulldogs. We are talking about Testudo, the friendly turtle that represents the University of Maryland.”
The original Testudo statue has had its fair share of wild rides. In 1947, it was held hostage at Johns Hopkins University, as over 200 police officers were called to the scene when Maryland students set out to retrieve it. A similar incident occurred in 1949 at the University of Virginia. As a result, the 3oo pound statue was filled with over 700 pounds of cement.
After a brief stay at Byrd Stadium, the original Testudo stands outside McKeldin Library. Five other Testudo statues have been added to the campus on the grounds of Byrd Stadium, Comcast Center, Gossett Team House, Riggs Alumni Center and the student union.
Today, the Testudo statues are held in high regard around campus. Bambale Osby, a former Terrapins basketball player who now plays in Romania, admits that the legend of Testudo doesn’t just apply to the fans.
“We did rub it before every game as we walked into Comcast Center,” Osby said. “We wanted to get some luck on our side before we took to the court.”
By now, the nose of every Testudo around campus has faded a bit, not unlike the left foot of the Unitas Statue outside M&T Bank Stadium. Before every football game, players can be seen rubbing Testudo moments before they run onto the field in front of 50,000 cheering fans.
“Sometimes, I think the pre-game is more exciting than the game itself,” said Nick Welmer, a recent Maryland graduate who usually attends 2-4 home football games a season. “The band comes out to play, the energy level in the stadium picks up, and right before atmosphere reaches a peak, you can see the players rubbing their Testudo statue. As a fan, when I see that, I can just feel the stadium about to erupt.”
Students at Maryland who are not sports fans still have reason to relate to Testudo. When the final exam period rolls around every semester, students present gifts to Testudo outside the library, hoping that he will bring them good luck on their exams. Sam Angell, a class of 2007 graduate who held the title of assistant director of media relations in the University of Maryland’s athletic department from 2008-2009, looks back fondly on those days.
“You walk by the Testudo statues during December and May and see Maryland shirts, coins, flowers and of course cases of beer,” Angell said.
Those who argue that Testudo brings out good fortune point to the time period when McKeldin Library was being renovated. During the time that scaffolding prevented students from rubbing Testudo’s nose before their exams, their collective grade point average dropped a tenth of a point. After students demanded that a walkway be cleared so the Testudo could be rubbed during the renovations, the Maryland’s GPA shot back up to its normal range.
While the terrapin statues are iconic around the campus grounds, Testudo does come to life for most home sporting events. In addition, Testudo has been known to make appearances at other sports venues around the area, and Ginsburg enjoys seeing his mascot out and about.
“The mascot at basketball games enhances the atmosphere, and I love it when he strays to such places as Camden Yards or Verizon Center,” Ginsburg said.
With 27 sports teams at Maryland looking for good fortunes in their athletic endeavours, plus over 37,000 students looking for some terrapin magic while taking their exams, the impact that Testudo has on campus is higher than ever. Fans, athletes and students alike will continue to pay their respects to Testudo as they make their way around the 154 year-old campus. Even a certain media member can’t help but sneak in a rub of Testudo’s nose while on the job.
“To be honest, when I go down for post-game interviews, I touch him, too,” Ginsburg said.