A Blacktip mantis shrimp, (Odontodactylus blacktipius) on a Blacktip Island reef. The fearsome underwater predator is the namesake of Tiperon University-Blacktip’s resurrected athletics program. (photo courtesy of Alexander Vasenin)
Tiperon University-Blacktip kicked off football season Thursday at Skerritt-Bottoms Stadium when its inaugural American-style football team, the Fightin’ Mantis Shrimp, faced their arch rivals Slippery Reef Medical College’s Surgeonfish. The team competes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division IV.
“It’s a boost to island pride, having a varsity sports team again,” said TU-B’s athletic director Goby Graysby. “It was devastating when we had to ditch our water polo program, but we couldn’t go on after all those horses drowned.
“When the Mantis took the field in their turquoise-and-coral, it was magical,” Graysby said. “And how great was to hear the old TU-B fight song –‘Mantis! Mantis! Eyestalks high! We’re the shrimp from B-T-I!’ – echoing from the bluff again?”
Some in the community questioned the university’s motives.
“It’s a money grab, plain and simple,” said longtime resident Billy Ray. “Ol’ Goby’s eyeing the TV money an NCAA team draws. And he’ll get the lion’s share of the Tiperon Islands TV market share. Not to mention t-shirt and jersey sales.
“But if he thinks locals are gonna bankroll a new stadium, he’s nuts,” Ray said. “We got better things to spend our money on. And the ‘Mantis?’ Really? Not the ‘Sharks’ or the ‘Barracuda’ or the ‘Ciguatera?’”
Fans, though, were quick to defend the name.
“Mantis shrimp are deadly predators, despite their small size,” said Mantis supporter Marina DeLow. “Their claws move so quick they break the sound barrier. Even if they miss, the shock wave still kills their prey.
“Those suckers’ll blast apart any crab or clam shell out there,” DeLow said. “There’s a reason fishermen call them ‘thumbsplitters.’ Put one in an aquarium, it’ll break the glass and go for your throat.”
Most locals, though, focused on the team’s disappointing 64-0 loss to the Surgeonfish.
“We’re a work in progress, using what talent we’ve got,” said coach Rocky Shore. “None of these guys can throw. None of them can catch. But they can all run like scalded rats when someone’s chasing them.
“We lost pretty bad, but there was lots of positive stuff we can build on,” Shore said. “All our players showed up sober. Mostly. Our goal this week is to get ‘em to cut down on the drinking and smoking so they can run more than five yards without throwing up.”
University officials remained upbeat despite the loss.
“Logowear sales are through the roof,” Graysby said. “With that, plus the alcohol sales, plus the Bottoms Up Distillery sponsorship, we’ll be able to afford a domed stadium in no time.”