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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Dragon Boats beat the heat, storms

44 teams race in 10th annual fest on the Maumee

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dragon boat racing teams of 25 people -- 20 paddlers, a steersman, a drummer, and three alternates -- raised a minimum of $2,000 to participate in three races during the day, with the first-round times determining their placement in the next two rounds. Dragon boat racing teams of 25 people -- 20 paddlers, a steersman, a drummer, and three alternates -- raised a minimum of $2,000 to participate in three races during the day, with the first-round times determining their placement in the next two rounds.
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Coordinators of Toledo's 10th annual Great Maumee River Dragon Boat Festival were prepared for heat on the day of the races. They were prepared for gusts of wind and rain. What they were not prepared for was Friday's thunderstorm that would send them into emergency mode just hours before the event.

Eileen Kerner, executive director of Partners in Education, said the storm uprooted every tent they had set up at International Park, even pushing one onto the Cherry Street Bridge.

"We had everything done at 3:30 [Friday afternoon.] The storm came in, basically took out the tents we had put in," she said. "We were here till 11:30 at night."

Despite precarious beginnings, the festival, which raises money for the local nonprofit Partners in Education, was in full gear by 8 a.m. Saturday when the first boats went out on the river. Forty-four teams raced the 40-foot-long, Hong Kong-style Dragon Boats, and Ms. Kerner estimated a turnout of 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Partners in Education creates partnerships between area schools and northwest Ohio businesses, organizations, and agencies. Ms. Kerner said the estimated $100,000 raised through
Saturday's event will go toward tutor recruitment and educational enhancement.

St. John's Jesuit High School's team, the KeyBank "Rowing Titans," won the Division A championship for the fifth year. The Division A championship runner-up was 13 ABC News. Division B's championship winner was the "Blazing Paddles" from Toledo Fire Department, and the runner-up was the Dei Fratelli Co.

Ms. Kerner said teams of 25, including 20 paddlers, a steersman, a drummer, and three alternates, had to raise a minimum of $2,000 to enter the race.

Each team participated in three races during the day, with the first round times determining placement in second and championship rounds.

The temperature hit a scalding 92 degrees by 4 p.m. at Toledo Express Airport, and some festival-goers carried umbrellas to shield them from the sun.

But other racers said the heat wasn't so bad.

Andrew Eickholt, a Marathon Petroleum Co. project engineer, said he didn't mind the heat, because it kept his muscles from cramping.

The race was concluded before last night's strong thunderstorms began.

Mr. Eickholt said he participated in the races for the team-building opportunity and good cause.

BP-Husky has been a sponsor of the races since they began 10 years ago, and has been a presenting sponsor the last four.

"It's great for teamwork," Jim Thomas, who was in charge of BP-Husky's participation in the event, said. "Everybody wants to win [but] it's friendly competition."

Bryan Haines, on the dock, exchanges high-fives with Kasey Sullivan, left, and Alina Pabin as a United Parcel Service team called Big Brown 2 prepares to head out to compete. Bryan Haines, on the dock, exchanges high-fives with Kasey Sullivan, left, and Alina Pabin as a United Parcel Service team called Big Brown 2 prepares to head out to compete.
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The history of the dragon boat festival can be traced back 2,500 years to ancient China and is believed to commemorate the suicide of a respected poet. Since then the festivals spread throughout China, and eventually all over the world.

Yueh-Ting Lee, vice president of the Chinese Association of Greater Toledo, said that because Toledo's festival supports local education, it has value and relevance to the entire community.

Alongside the races, the Chinese Association put on performances including martial arts, broadsword demonstrations, and traditional song and dance. There were also tables where festival-goers could learn how to write a few characters in Chinese or view Chinese art.

Mr. Lee said the boat festival brings together not only the larger Toledo community, but also smaller communities within a company.

Brad Downey, who works in Fifth Third Bank's product development group, said he participated in the race for the sense of camaraderie built between co-workers.

"Fifth Third cares about our community," he said.

Dei Fratelli competed in the Dragon Boat Races for the second time this year.

"We had the max amount of people this year -- 22," retail sales representative Anita Laginess said. "We even switched other people in. It's been a lot of fun."

Contact Sara Felsenstein at: sfelsenstein@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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