(Dragon) boatload of fun at Riverfest

Published 6:45 pm Saturday, July 3, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- For a boat load of competitive fun, look no further than this year's Dragon Boat Race at Riverfront Park.
The event, which is being put on by the Junior Optimist Club of Niles, will be held during Riverfest on August 7 at Riverfront Park.
The club is currently seeking sponsors and teams to sign up to participate in the race.
Jeremy Croteau, vice president of the junior optimist club, has been a paddler in the event for three years now. He thinks the race has been a fun and unique experience and encourages people to try it out.
Teams are made up of 18 paddlers and a drummer. An experienced Dragon Boat steer-person also accompanies each team in the back of the boat. The boats and steer-person are provided by the Michigan Dragon Boat Association, out of South Haven.
The price for a team has been lowered from $350 to $200. With 19 people per boat that is just a little more than $10 per person. The event is open to participants of any skill level, who are over the age of 14.
The race is a team building and social event for friends, families, businesses, clubs and organizations. And if you are interested in participating in the race, but don't have 18 other teammates, the club will be making a list of interested individuals who would like to be placed on a team.
The Dragon Boat Race is an event that has been put on by the Niles Optimist Club in the past. After seven years with the event, the club is passing it on to its junior counterparts for the first time this year.
Junior club president Jonathan Poole described the race as a fun way to expell some competitive spirit.
Erika Kirtdoll, of the Niles Noon Optimist Club, is acting as a mentor to the junior club. She agreed these races can get pretty competitive.
In the past, the teams have typically participated in three races, two in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Kirtdoll said the competition was obvious as teams constantly checked their status in the standings and calculated the time they would need to win first place with their final race.
The races last for about one and half to two minutes. The winners are determined by adding the total race times together and finding which team has the lowest total time.
Each of the elaborate boats, which measure about 18 meters, feature a large dragon head at the front, scales along the side and a colorful tale in the back.
The junior optimist club needs to raise $2,050 to put on the event. They are currently raising money through the sale of tickets for Riverfest's duck raffle race and by having teams sign up to be in the Dragon Boat Race.
So far, the club has received verbal confirmations from five teams. They are aiming to get at least 12 teams to help to pay for the event, but would like to get as much community participation as possible.
If you are interested in participating in the race or helping out at the event as a volunteer, please call Lisa Croteau at (269) 687-4332.