The race is on: Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat races are Saturday
How excited are last year's champions about the prospect of defending their dragon boat title today?
"Ecstatic," said Mitch Rautio, the captain of the defending champion Wooly Irishmen, which is returning about 90 percent of last year's team.
So far this week the Wooly Irishmen have practiced twice, he said.
"Everyone seemed to re-member what they're doing," he said. "We seemed to get in synch again. Hopefully, we can keep the rhythm."
The Wooly Irishmen, spon-sored by Bemidji Woolen Mills and The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival today kicks into full gear down at the waterfront of Lake Bemidji. Races will begin at 9 a.m. and the championship will be at 4:30 p.m.
Keg 'N' Cork, took first place by less than one second last year, just beating Dragon Power, a team from Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg-based Dragon Power team returned this year in hopes of taking the trophy this year.
"We are so looking forward to it," said Dragon Power team captain Barb Hecko.
Dragon Power teammates said they had a great time during last year's festival, and are excited to take part in it again today.
"The festival last year was great," Hecko said. "It was one of the best festivals we've ever attended, period."
She said it was impressive to see how it has grown - last year there were 36 teams and this year there are 63.
"We are so proud of your (city's) success," she said, "and we're proud to be a part of it."
The parade of teams and opening ceremony were held Friday night at the waterfront as all 63 teams were intro-duced.
Leading the way was the team from Sen Lin Hu, the Chinese village at Concordia Language Village. Dueling swordsmen and warriors led the parade as a bright, long dragon followed, weaving its way along the path from Li-brary Park to the waterfront.
Bringing up the rear of the parade, trophy held high with pride, were the Wooly Irish-men.
Sen Lin Hu provided the his-tory of dragon boat racing, performing a skit. The Dean of the Chinese village, Paul Del-Main, narrated the story.
According to the skit:
Qu Yuan was a statesman and diplomat who lived dur-ing the time of the Warring States 2,300 years ago. But, his fame and success spurred jealousy among the fellow ministers. They plotted his sabotage.
The king of Chu was invited to a conference by the Qin and Qu Yuan pleaded with him to not intend. But, instead of listening, the king banished Qu Yuan, leaving him to wan-der the countryside writing poems about his love for his country and people.
The king of Chu attended the conference, and he was cap-ture and tortured by the Qin army. He died in captivity.
The king's son assumed the throne, and rather than aveng-ing his father's death he signed a "humiliating" treaty with the Qin. The treaty did not deter the Qin, and in 278 B.C., they attacked the Chu.
Qu Yuan could not bear the loss. He cast himself into the Mi Lo River and drowned.
The people of Chu were hor-rified. They ran to the river and beat the water with poles and sticks in an attempt to keep the fish from eating his body. They also tossed rice into the water, hoping the fish would eat it instead.
Now, more than 2,200 years later, DelMain said, as the community prepared to cele-brate its second annual dragon boat festival, the dragon needed to wake up. To do this, he said, the highest-ranking person in the municipality must "dot the eyes" of the dragon (the dragon head that is placed on the dragon boats). Bemidji Mayor Richard Leh-mann was on hand to perform this task, using a black marker to literally dot the dragon's eyes.
He said the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is a great addition to Bemidji's festivals and events during the year.
"This time adults get to go out and get to act like kids - I like that part," said Lehmann, a member of the First City Team, composed of city of Bemidji officials and staff.
Schedule of events
9 a.m. races begin
10 a.m. vendors open
11 a.m. beer tent opens
11 a.m.-5 p.m. kids activities
Noon-5 p.m. cultural activities
4:30 p.m. championships
5:30 p.m. awards ceremony
6 p.m. Kid Hollywood (music)
A shuttle bus will be avail-able today to help ease traffic and parking at the waterfront. The free shuttle bus will oper-ate from Bangsberg Hall on the Bemidji State University cam-pus from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There will be pick-up and drop-off every 10 minutes. Due to con-struction along Birchmont Drive, the Bangsberg parking lot is accessible from 10th Street to Lake Boulevard.