Eastporters pull off a victory

In annual cross-creek rivalry, members of the upstart republic out-tug Annapolis

November 05, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,sun reporter

It's less than an hour before yesterday's first tug over Spa Creek, and the co-captains of the eight-year-old Maritime Republic of Eastport are unfazed by the chaotic scene unfolding in front of them.

People cannot find gloves, but leaders Megan Cureton and Alexa Winters assure everyone that they are on their way.

A handful of tuggers are missing, but Cureton and Winters say it's no big deal and are confident the annual tug-of-war featuring their Eastport squad against those uppity Annapolis bluebloods remains in the bag.

Why so smug?

Cureton points to her ace.

Matt Byrnes, 6 foot 8, 335 pounds, came into Cureton's art gallery in downtown Annapolis two weeks ago, and she sized him up the way a football coach does a prized recruit.

Little did Cureton know that Byrnes was even more than advertised. He is a former Marine who anchored an undefeated tug-of-war squad in the service.

"Just look at him," Cureton said. "We've got the biggest tugger ever."

Byrnes, though, lives in Pasadena, far outside Eastport's boundaries.

"Eastporters, it's a spirit and not just a ZIP code," she said.

That spirit, mixed with a healthy dose of manpower, produced a clean sweep over the Annapolis residents, making mincemeat of squads that had dominated the previous year's competition.

Eastporters fancy themselves part of the beer-drinking working class, with their secession from the city decided on over drinks at the Rams Head Tavern in 1998.

A tug of war has ensued every year. Since the Republic of Eastport was created, organizers say they have raised close to $200,000 for local charities at different events.

With the sun shining brightly but a chill in the air, the women's team set the tone, dragging the 1,824-foot rope over the water with only a modicum of resistance.

"We've had our ups and downs," said Lisa DiPinto, a legitimate Eastport resident whose heart was still racing minutes after the pull. "But we've come back from last year."

Eric Toney, 25, who describes himself as a lifelong Eastporter, knows why things came so easy for his men-only squad.

"We were hungry over here. That showed," he said.

Eastport was up 3-0 before Byrnes took the rope. By that time, Annapolis had resorted to pulling people off the street. John Cote moved to Annapolis five months ago and had no intention of participating.

The Annapolis squad had other plans.

"They said they needed help, but even I couldn't save them," Cote said.

Not with Byrnes and about three other Eastporters who were each a biscuit shy of 300 pounds pulling on the other side.

"This," Byrnes said of the easy win, "is was what I expected."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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