A drive to 'Fear the Turtle'


In Annapolis, where some pieces of legislation are a hard sell, one bill has a hard shell.

Del. Barbara Frush wants to give University of Maryland fans a license plate they can be proud of, something they can rally around. Her bill would create a "Fear the Turtle" tag boldly emblazoned with the image of the mascot Testudo in his traditional stance, flippers akimbo.

"I didn't think this one up on my own," says Frush, laughing. "The university came to me with this bill. Before I put the bill in, I asked a bunch of people if they'd pay $45 for it. To a person, they said, 'Oh, absolutely.'"

Money from the sale of the plates would be divided between athletic scholarships and scholarships for students majoring in environmental or biological sciences.

Seven different booster tags, called "affinity plates," that promote everything from the Terrapin Club (a flag-waving Testudo) to the Alumni Association (jaunty Testudo) represent the university. A tiny turtle is tucked on the left side of the plates, and the organization's motto is in staid black lettering on the bottom.

To get an affinity plate from the state, at least 25 members of an organization must pay a $25 fee. The Motor Vehicle Administration says 615 organizations have done so, including 47 colleges or universities outside Maryland.

But the Frush plate is an entirely different animal.

By seeking legislative authority, the "Fear the Turtle" plate can have a bolder design, much like the popular "Treasure the Chesapeake" plate, which has sold more than 1 million copies, or the "Our Farms - Our Future" plate, which has sold more than 80,100 copies. The plates would be available to everyone.

While university designers haven't completed their work, which is subject to state approval, Frush guarantees drivers won't have to squint to see the turtle.

"Sometimes, we need to lighten up, and this is one way to lighten up," says the Democratic delegate who represents College Park. "Maryland is a great state, but it should show it's a fun state, too."

University officials began talking about ways to raise scholarship money two years ago, but the search for the right vehicle proceeded at a tortoiselike pace.

Then Brian Darmody, assistant vice president for research and economic development, remembered casual remarks and shared them during a brainstorming session.

"My brother said, 'You have a lot of boring [state] license plates' ... and people started asking me if they could buy 'Fear the Turtle' plates," he said. "All scholarships rely on private fund raising and this was a little creative because we approached it from the academic side and the athletic side. It's a two-fer."

With more than 20 manufacturers licensed to use "Fear the Turtle," Darmody realized the market was hot. Still, he wishes he had been more harelike.

"If I'd had the plates available when we won the [2002 men's basketball] national championship, I could have sold a gazillion of them," he says, sighing. "But if Ralph Friedgen does what I hope he's going to do ..."

Frush, who is a fan of Friedgen, the UM football coach, and has shirts from the team's Gator and Peach Bowl appearances on her office walls in Annapolis, finishes the thought, "We're not only going to put Maryland on the map, we're going to put it on the road, too."

The bill will be heard at 1 p.m. Feb. 17 by the House Environmental Matters Committee.

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