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University of Maryland Students Start Competitive Eating Team

Nov 29, 2010 – 7:04 AM
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Ben Muessig

Ben Muessig Contributor

(Nov. 29) -- Some college students are hungry to learn. Others are just hungry.

A crew of big eaters at the University of Maryland have put their stomachs on the line, founding what could be the nation's first collegiate competitive eating club.

"The University of Maryland motto is 'Fear the Turtle,'" said Keith Solomon, club founder and president of the competitive eating club team at the University of Maryland. "Our motto is 'Feed the Turtle.'"
Competitive eaters at the University of Maryland have started a college club team.
Courtesy of the Competitive Eating Club at the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland competitive eating club member Ryan Hiken, seated left, and founder and president Keith Solomon, seated right, devour hot dogs at a recent club gathering.

Where else would such an idea come to fruition other than a dining hall?

Solomon founded the competitive club during his freshman year when he and his friends realized their university meal plans came with an expiration date. And they aren't the type who like letting meals go to waste.

"If you have too many points on your dining plan after a certain date, they just cut whatever you have left," Solomon told AOL News. "So we'd just buy 20 pizzas and all these chicken fingers and devour it all."

After starting the club as a joke among friends, Solomon decided to go official -- gaining club status from the University of Maryland last week.

As such, he's drafted a club constitution that the 30-odd members will follow at their meetings, which "will occur on a random basis."

After a roll call and reports by the president and committees, Maryland's hungriest students will start with "stretching and [a] warm-up lap," followed by "speed training" and "endurance training," the constitution notes.

But without competition, competitive eating is just plain old eating. So the environmental engineering major is trying to develop a network of competitive eating clubs at other colleges that could become his club's future rivals.

"The goal is that we get these teams started at other universities so we could compete intercollegiately," said Solomon, who has not yet cut his teeth in a sanctioned event but says he's particularly skilled at consuming large portions of hamburgers and Jell-o.

Once other schools field teams, Solomon hopes to organize multi-college events where clubs from several schools can chow down against each other.

"We're completely serious about this," he said. "We're going to do some practices, then we'll head out to local contests and competitions. When other schools start up these teams, we'll start practicing for the specific events."
Competitive eaters at the University of Maryland have started a college club team.
Courtesy of the Competitive Eating Club at the University of Maryland
Who says the "Freshman 15" has to be a bad thing? University of Maryland junior Keith Solomon has started what might be the nation's first collegiate competitive eating club.

Though actual collegiate eating contests are still a long way off, Major League Eating president George Shea views the formation of the Maryland club as a validation of his sport.

"Finally, we've scaled the ivy-colored walls of academia," he told AOL News. "In the dark past, there was stigma related to this sport. For me to see it come full circle is really a triumph."

Though Shea says his league can't officially endorse Solomon's club, he is pleased to see young folks dedicating themselves to competitive eating.

"Pursuing a career in competitive eating does not conflict in any way with pursuing a higher education," he said. "Eating events largely occur on the weekend, so they do not pose a threat to academic studies. I would argue that the superior nutrition that one might gain participating in a spinach eating contest -- or even a jalapeno eating contest -- might, in fact, aid academic learning."

Competitive eater and Louisiana State University graduate Adrian Morgan says he wishes he had the chance to participate in a club like the one at the University of Maryland.

"I definitely would have been in it if it was around when I was in college," said Morgan, the 14th ranked eater in the world. "It gives them an outlet to talk to other people about it, get excited about it and even have little events."

He hopes to see competitive eating clubs emerge at schools across the country -- though he doubts it will rise to the level of popularity shared by college football and college basketball.

"Maybe [it will be] more like field hockey or soccer," he said." I could see a few schools around the nation having a club that would travel and compete."

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That's exactly what Solomon is trying to do.

"I've gotten inquires from people who follow competitive eating like it was football and baseball," Solomon said. "We're just trying to get all of those guys in the same place at once."

That might be a hard task for the junior to accomplish before he graduates. But even if he has left the University of Maryland before the club takes part in its first contest, Solomon says he'll be proud to set the table for the future of scholastic competitive eating.

"I'm trying to leave my legacy here," he said.
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