YOU might expect Maryland's official sport to be sailing or hiking, but would you believe jousting? Similarly, few might guess that Arizona has official neckware, the bola tie - or that Idaho has a state horse, the appaloosa. The time-honored practice of adopting state birds, flowers, and animals, long a form of ``trivial pursuit'' in most states, has been expanding. Florida has both a freshwater and a saltwater fish. Some states now have their own marching and folk songs. North Carolina lists the round-bottom shad boat as its official boat. New York's muffin is apple. In politics it is always easier to add than subtract.
Some taxpayers count the game of state symbols a flat waste of time and money; others find it harmless, even amusing.
Legislators say the activity boosts state pride and tourism. No surprise then that Wisconsin's domestic animal is the dairy cow or that Florida, now close to adopting the key lime pie, calls orange juice its state beverage. Schoolchildren can also learn firsthand how lobbying and bill-passing works. An intensive effort by young Bucks County students to make the long-extinct Phacops rana Pennsylvania's ``new'' fossil is making headway.
Controversy is rare, but occasionally the necessary enthusiasm to adopt a state symbol is missing. California's Senate is weighing - but not about to be rushed into - a choice of the banana slug as the state mollusk. More than one legislator, on inspecting a glass terrarium full of specimens in Senate chambers, has dismissed them as ``repulsive.''
Some lawmakers fret that all this apparent frivolity tarnishes their image as serious legislators. But they may have more reason than the rest of us to need a little comic relief. Revamping the wording in obscure clauses of the tax code or the budget can be a tedious business. As Elaine Knapp, an editor with the Council of State Governments, says: ``Naming state symbols probably takes no more time than passing a resolution to honor someone, and it certainly takes a lot less than any money issue.''