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Published: Sunday, 7/22/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Cheers battle drums as dragon boats ply Maumee

The Toledo Refining Company team races toward the finish line during the 11th Annual Drago Boat Festival at International Park in Toledo. The Toledo Refining Company team races toward the finish line during the 11th Annual Drago Boat Festival at International Park in Toledo.
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The only thing louder than the crowd at International Park was the drum beats as four dragon boats in the championship heat raced at full tilt along the Maumee River Saturday afternoon.

The Key Bank Rowing Titans, sponsored by Key Bank and St. John's Jesuit High School, beat 31 other teams to emerge as the victor of the 11th Annual Dragon Boat Festival, held at International Park.

Local groups or businesses sponsored each team and recruited 20 paddlers, a steersman, and a drummer for each Hong Kong-style boat.

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Becky Spencer, spokesman for the event, said sponsoring groups, which include Fifth Third Bank, Medical Mutual, and the Toledo Federation of Teachers, see the race as an opportunity for employee bonding.

"It gets their employees out in a different environment, to spend some time together, and to get to know each other," Ms. Spencer said. "It's a pretty strenuous workout but it's a lot of fun."

Each boat raced the 500-meter course (546 yards) against two or three other teams three times over the course of the day. After the first round of races, teams were organized into divisions based on their race times.

The Mighty Music Makers, sponsored by Principal Business Enterprises and the Toledo Symphony, paddled their way to the title of Division D Champions.

Angie Segura, of Whitehouse, Ohio cheers for the Toledo Fire Department. Angie Segura, of Whitehouse, Ohio cheers for the Toledo Fire Department.
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"We had a great team and everyone worked together," team captain Cheryl Trace said. "It's sort of like playing in a symphony because you need to be synchronized. That's what's important. . . it's not about power."

Ms. Trace said she had never participated in dragon boat racing before, but she hopes to do so again.

Dragon boat racing can be traced back more than 2,400 years in Chinese culture to Qu Yuan, an adviser to Emperor Chu in the fourth century B.C. After Mr. Qu was exiled because of his politically insensitive poems, he drowned himself in a fit of sorrow.

Because of the respect they held for the man, local fishermen raced to the scene of his death in their long, swift boats and kept fish away from his body by splashing their oars and beating their drums. The Chinese commemorate both the tragedy and sense of community with the festival.

Ms. Spencer said Toledo's festival celebrates some of the ancient Chinese rituals, such as the opening ceremony practice of painting the eyes on the dragon heads on each of the boats.

"It awakens the dragon, and it protects the safety of everyone on the riverfront," she said.

The event, which featured live entertainment, food vendors, and a children's area, served as a fundraiser for Partners In Education, a nonprofit organization that fosters relationships between Toledo-area schools and the surrounding communities.

"Our mission is to enhance student success through community engagement," said Ms. Spencer, who also serves as executive director of the benefiting organization. "All this goes to support kids' education partners, focusing on volunteers, mentoring, and post-secondary education."

Steve Hirzel, an employee of Dei Fratelli Tomato Products and a paddler for team Dei Fratelli Tomato Rowers, said his company became involved in the event three years ago because of the support it gives to education.

"Our team wanted to find other ways we could help the community and this starts with education," Mr. Hirzel said. "This is also the best way to bring people together. You get to see the other sides of people."

Contact Mel Flanagan at: mflanagan@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.

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