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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago


On your mark, get set ... Dragons Boats!

Dragons come alive at the Dragon Boat Festival at International Park

Teams face off at last year's Dragon Race.
Teams face off at last year's Dragon Race.
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A flight of dragons will slither and glide their way through the Maumee River on Saturday. Dragon boats, that is.

Hundreds of people have signed up to paddle for a cause for the 13th annual Dragon Boat Festival put on by Partners in Education.

Thirty teams and 32 boats are expected to compete in this year’s boat festival, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The race course begins on the river across from the Owens Corning World Headquarters in front of the Docks restaurants, and the finish line is near the lagoon at International Park.

In order to register, teams must raise a total of $2,000. Participating sponsors, ranging in levels from presenting, gold, silver, and bronze, make even more of a financial contribution.

The festival raises money for Partners in Education’s many local community programs. Partners in Education is a nonprofit organization that works to foster relationships between local schools and community programs and businesses.

Jennifer Kephart, the executive director of Partners in Education, said proceeds from the festival are critical to the sustainability of the organization and its programs. She said it impacts local jobs, tutoring programs, and College Coach, which is a program that pairs students with designated coaches who monitor the student’s progress from fifth grade all the way through sophomore year of college.

With the money from sponsors, tent rentals, donations, and festival vendors, last year’s festival raised a net profit of about $30,000, Kephart said.

The festival has had a major impact on the community since Charles Stocking, a member of the Partners in Education board of trustees, helped bring it to Toledo.

Kephart said, “The inspiration for the race and festival was viewed in 1999. At that time, Chuck Stocking and Bill Niehous, both Rotarians, had seen firsthand the draw and impact of Dragon Boat festivals in Canada. Chuck experienced the Dragon Boat festival while traveling to Stratford, Ont., where its local Rotary Club hosts a Dragon Boat Festival as their annual fund-raiser.”

The first Toledo-based dragon boat festival took place in the summer of 2002.

In Chinese tradition, the Dragon Boat Race Festival is based on a 2,400-year-old event. A well-respected poet named Qu Yang was facing political exile and drowned himself in the Mi Lo River. Local fishermen sped to his body in their long boats to protect it from the surrounding fish. The intense sense of community that the event provoked is commemorated through the festival still today.

The dragon boat racing at the festival is a legitimate water sport that requires training and preparation. All teams have been required to attend at least two nights of practice this week, from Monday through today, Kephart said.

Partners in Education works with Great White North Dragon Boat to ensure that officials run the races and carry out proper procedures. All the boats are rented specifically for the festival and are Hong Kong style dragon boats. This means that they are 40 feet long and hold up to 20 paddlers along with a steersman and a drummer.

The boats even come equipped with a dragon tail and head. During the opening ceremonies of the event, the “Awaken the Dragon” ritual is traditionally performed by dotting each of the dragon‘s eyes on the heads of the boats.

On race day, each team must participate in three timed races with a minimum of 16 paddlers, eight of whom must be females. All teams will be eligible to win trophies for categories such as best race times and team spirit.

For those who are not serving as members of the teams, there is a host of events that will take place at International Park. Typically, the festival has vendors with food and drinks for purchase, live entertainment, a children’s area with fun activities and crafts, and demonstrations of various aspects of Chinese culture. Admission to the park to watch the races and attend the event is free.

The first year of the festival, only about nine teams participated, Kephart said. The exciting daylong event has now grown to have as many as 46 teams in the past, with about 800 volunteers and 5,000 people in attendance last year.

Contact Kathleen Ashcraft at kashcraft@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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