Dragon boat races bring 35 teams to the Inner Harbor

Spectacle raises money for Catholic Charities

Family: Events, Activities

September 16, 2004|By Lori Sears | Lori Sears,SUN STAFF

It should have been an Olympic sport. Just ask any of the 875 competitors taking part in the Catholic Charities Dragon Boat Races at the Inner Harbor Saturday.

They take their fun seriously.

The Dragon Boat Races, running from 7:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., feature 35 corporate-sponsored teams participating in 43 elimination heats, with each team raising money for Catholic Charities. In the water, racers will steer their colorful boats, replicas of Chinese dragon boats, from the World Trade Center to the Maryland Science Center.

Teams include Verizon Communications, M&T Bank, Legg Mason, Constellation Energy Group, DAP Inc., Harkins Builders Inc., the Baltimore City Fire Department sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the Baltimore City Police Department sponsored by St. Joseph Medical Center, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and Loyola College, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., Harbor Hospital and many more organizations and groups.

"This year, of the 35 teams taking part in the Dragon Boat Races, nine are brand new," says Dragon Boat Race coordinator Patricia Sterling. "We have a lot of repeat participants. And there are a lot of organizations who have heard about [the races] and want to be involved."

Certainly corporations seek to be involved in the event to help the many programs of Catholic Charities, but they also get involved to help build unity at the workplace, using the event as a team-building activity.

"Catholic Charities started doing Dragon Boat Races in 1998 as part of our 75th anniversary," says Sterling. "We chose this sport because it shows the power of working together. [The races] show the power of teamwork and how much you can get done when working together."

Fun? Yes. But the races are still quite competitive. Companies hold tryouts and offer nine weeks of training sessions with coaches.

Twenty-two people sit on each 40-foot-long, canoelike boat, with three alternates on land. And of the 22 people, 20 are paddling at once. A steersman sits at the back of the boat, guiding with a 10-foot-tall oar. The lead-right paddler sets the boat's pace, with a drummer drumming in time to the strokes set forth by the lead-right paddler. All other paddlers keep in time with the drumming.

"There are a series of nine races in the first qualifying heat," says Sterling. "Then teams get seeded. Much like the NCAA. Each race then typically has four boats [paddling] across the harbor at once. Then two or three at once. We've guaranteed each team will [participate in] a minimum of three races."

WJZ-TV sportscaster Mark Viviano will emcee the event, which also includes activities for spectators along the Inner Harbor promenade and on the Main Stage at Kaufman Pavilion by Rash Field.

For spectators and team members on land, there will be contests to choose the most whimsically decorated drummer's hat, the most rousing team chant and the best team tent. Contests run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Main Stage.

Also, an 8-foot-tall dragon mascot will be roaming about the promenade. And visitors young and old can get temporary dragon tattoos.

An awards ceremony wraps up the day's events at 4:45 p.m. on the Main Stage, with the winner being awarded the coveted Dragon Cup.

"It's great fun. And a sight to see," says Sterling.

The Catholic Charities Dragon Boat Races and events run from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Inner Harbor. Races are from the World Trade Center to the Maryland Science Center. Events take place along the promenade. Call 410-547-5521 or visit www.catholiccharities-md. org/dragonboats.html.

For more family events, see Page 44.

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