Tuscaloosa Junior League to host first ever Dragon Boat Races

Adrienne Burch

People from across the community will gather next Saturday at the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa to compete in the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s inaugural Dragon Boat Races.

Dragon boat racing is the eighth-fastest growing sport in the world. Teams of 20 paddlers, a drummer and steersperson race in authentic 46-foot long Chinese dragon boats. According to legend, dragon boat racing began in China more than 2,300 years ago.

Registration is now open for the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Cypress Inn on the Black Warrior River. Participants must be 15 or older to compete. The money raised from the event will go to fund community programs supported by The Junior League of Tuscaloosa. These programs include those affected by the April 27tornado, Adopt-A-School, Kids in the Kitchen, The Literacy Council, Beautiful Health and the Alabama Reach Program.

“Participants rave about the excitement, friendly competition and community spirit surrounding the sport,” said Ashley Gill, Dragon Boat Race public relations committee chair.

It is the ultimate teambuilding sport. It requires synchronicity and finesse — more than power to win, Gill said. Each team will be given a trained coach and an on-water practice session prior to the race. This practice round is provided because the stroke is unlike any other and can only be learned through practice. Teams are also guaranteed to compete in at least two heats on race day.

Team members each play their own role in the boat. For instance, there are “engine room” paddlers that sit in seats four, five and six, which are typically the strongest team members. But, all 20 members must work together to keep rhythm and propel the boat forward.

The Junior League decided to bring Dragon Boat Racing to Tuscaloosa after visiting Montgomery’s races last August, where a group representing University of Alabama Alumni won.

Brandt Garrison, public relations chair for The Tuscaloosa Junior League, said they were looking for a new signature fundraiser and thought that the Tuscaloosa community would enjoy a fun, family-friendly event.

“We have the Black Warrior River here, and we really felt like Tuscaloosa was a perfect place to host an event like this,” Garrison said.

The times from the first two rounds of competition will be averaged together with the top 12 teams moving on to compete in the final round. Prizes will be awarded to the top finishers with everyone racing for the ultimate title of Grand Champion. In addition to the races, the teams will also compete to see who can earn the most pledges for The Junior League of Tuscaloosa.

Following the races, there will be a paddler’s party open to the public at Innisfree Irish Pub. Racers get in free with their team wristbands, and friends and family can join for a $5 charge.

The cost of competing in the races is $1,000 per team. Volunteers are also needed to help the Junior League put on the event. For information about how to register your Dragon Boat Race team, donate money to the Tuscaloosa Junior League or to volunteer, visit www.jltuscaloosa.org.