Dragons roar in downtown races
By Steve Warden | The Journal Gazette
The little boy, maybe 4 years old – 5 tops – stood between his mother and father several feet from the St. Marys River's edge in Headwaters Park West. He watched the hustle and bustle that surrounded him, from the hundreds grownups in bright-colored T-shirts – some wearing life jackets – to the long, narrow boats that clung parallel to the pier that jutted out over the dark water.
“Mommy,” young Tyler McCabe said as he looked up, “where are the dragons?”
“We told him we were going to the dragon boat races,” said his mother, Melissa. “I guess he's looking for the dragons.”
Once again, she would explain that those long, narrow boats were called dragon boats – she pointed to the dragon face in the bow and the tail in the stern – and that people would have a race.
From early Saturday morning and into the perfect Chamber of Commerce afternoon, 25 boats, all of them with a rowing crew of 20, a steersman in the back and a cadence drummer to the front, competed in the third annual Dragon Boat Races sponsored by Riverfront Fort Wayne and the Mayor's Youth Engagement Council.
“This event is just one more way to draw people down to our rivers; get them on the river, get them next to the river, get them to experience the rivers in any way,” said race organizer Megan Butler of Riverfront Fort Wayne. “It's also a fundraising event. This year, the donation went to Parkview (hospitals).”
Corporations, schools and businesses paid entry fees to field teams. Some companies had more than one team as a way to spark in-house competition. Steel Dynamics No. 1 and No. 2 were in the morning first race, with the No. 1 team winning by a boat length, or roughly 46 feet.
Each team had at least two heats over the 250-meter course that began near the Harrison Street Bridge. Those times would be averaged, and the 10 teams with the fastest averages advanced.
“The dragon boats come from China,” said Butler. “Dragon boat races are still extremely popular in China.”
Judging from the several hundred spectators, the sport is making a local impact also.
Butler said there is no prize money for the winning team.
“It's just bragging rights. We have fancy little trophies they can compete for. But the teams are very competitive. Teams really get into this.”