TAMPA — He practiced among the depleted shelves of Gray's College Bookstore, somewhere between Advanced Hydrogeology and Fundamentals of Groundwater.
Ping, ping ping, ping, ping.
Slamming pencils into a shelf felt good for Dominick Ray, 23. His whole life, he thwacked surfaces. Teachers told him to take it to the band room, and he asked whether he could bring the desk. "Stop hitting the tables!" his mother yelled at home.
Maybe this time, he'd win.
He and his friend Ronald Hollins, 21, entered the Red Bull Tum Tum Pa contest at the bookstore near the University of South Florida. The goal was to make perfect percussion on desktops using school supplies and Red Bull cans. Contestants covered hit songs and invented beats.
Red Bull hosted the same event at the University of Tampa last week, and it's moving to Fort Myers today. Five teams from around the country will represent the United States at the world finals in Brazil.
It was more a promotional boon for Red Bull than high-concept performance art. But it's what happens in school, said Ray. You start drumming the lunch table, and soon everyone around you is crushing milk jugs and slamming trays.
Women in Red Bull tank tops foisted cans of energy drink upon contestants.
Some had zero musical talent. Some didn't know what songs to play until the last second.
Two Tampa guys, the Cream Team, played In Da Club by rapper 50 Cent. They shook a canister of paper clips and tapped pencils into a molecular biology textbook.
"You couldn't pick a less important book?" asked emcee Mike Mass.
Teenage spring breakers from Detroit — the Wolf Pack — were rained out from the beach and decided to come. Chaperones Phil and Hilda Neuman took pictures while the girls stumbled through a Weezer song.
"I broke a pencil," said Rimma Haikin, 18.
Cream Team took second place, winning a year's supply of Red Bull.
Chocolate Thunder, a team of two young women, placed third, winning a bookstore gift card and a case of Red Bull.
But nobody could topple Team Wake, four sandy wakeboarders from USF.
They'll have a chance to compete in Brazil if chosen as one of five favorites online.
They played Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice. It was either that, they said, or Jingle Bells. They dragged a highlighter down a spiral notebook and clasped binder rings back and forth. They all cracked open fresh cans of Red Bull.
"Times like these, I remember there are people out there that just want to have fun," said Mass.
Hollins and Ray stuck to pencils and dry erase markers, and it was their death knell. They'd hoped to bring Red Bull to friends in the Progressive Black Men organization at USF, where they are role models for African-American kids.
They left without.
Team Wake will get a huge party on the water, sponsored by Red Bull.