On U-Md. competitive eating team, a battle to become big mouth on campus
Friday, February 18, 2011; 8:07 PM
Phil Fiore's party didn't bother sitting down for dinner Thursday, because sitting just slows you down. Instead, the five guys stood inside the College Park eatery Ratsie's as five 14-inch cheese pizzas, five dozen hot wings and five cups of water were brought out from the kitchen.
"It's going down!" somebody yelled as the food was placed in front of the five contestants in a face-stuffing race organized by the University of Maryland's competitive eating club team.
Yes, there is now a Terrapin eating team, with a constitution, a staff adviser and more than 40 members, along with a motto: "Feed the Turtle." Coming soon: Eatin' Terps uniforms with elastic waistbands and a turtle mascot clutching a piece of pizza?
Cooked up by Keith Solomon, a junior environmental engineering major, the group was granted club status by the university in November. It is one of the first teams of its kind; the University at Albany, a New York state college, appears to have been the pioneer in turning collegiate gluttony into a sport.
"We just thought it was a cool idea, something fun," said Solomon, a lanky, laconic 20-year-old who said the idea dated to his freshman year, when he periodically blew out expiring meal-plan points on pizzas, wings and other fodder for speed-eating showdowns with friends.
Some students dream about making the dean's list. Maryland's competitive eaters dream about eating 10 pounds of Jimmy Dean sausage in 10 minutes. (Then, in a corresponding nightmare, they're hammered by critics for wasting food and celebrating over-consumption when people are going hungry.)
At Ratsie's, after an official countdown, Fiore, a sophomore marketing major, began to destroy the competition by destroying the enormous meal: One by one, he folded slices of the large cheese pizza, dipped them in water and jammed them into his mouth while rocking in place.
"Chew, chew, swallow! Chew, chew, swallow!" the guys in the crowd chanted.
Fiore powered through the pizza and began on the wings, gnawing the meat like a rabid dog. The veins in his neck bulged as his Lambda Chi Alpha bros exhorted the tall, trim kid they called "The Fury" to chew harder, faster, stronger.
It looked like a pledge-week hazing ritual. Theresa Johns, one of the owners of Ratsie's, shook her head and turned away. "Such an abuse of good food," she said.
After a speedy, sloppy 41/2 minutes, Fiore's food was gone - all but the discarded bones and the oily, orange glaze that covered his face. He flexed his biceps under the fluorescent lights.
"I could eat more," he declared.