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Dragon Boat Festival: Nine teams entered in inaugural Sprint Cup

MONTE DRAPER \ BEMIDJI PIONEER Oarsman Steve Modich guides MedSave Family Pharmacy's Wellness Warriors, left, past Paul Bunyan Broadcasting's Radio Flyers during dragon boat practice Tuesday evening.

BEMIDJI -- Nine teams tonight will compete for the inaugural Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.

"We're excited to participate," said Cathy Hedstrom, a team captain of Padders You Can Count On, AmeriPride Service's team. "We're just looking forward to doing the best we can."

"We were all for it," said dragon-boater Justin Cox, owner of Elite Performance & Fitness, which this year formed its first-ever team, Oar We There Yet? "We thought it might be a great chance to get some more practice sessions in before Saturday."

Nine teams are vying for the Sprint Cup, competing three at a time this evening in two heats. The first heat begins at 7:15 p.m., following the 6 p.m. Parade of Teams at the waterfront.

The team with the lowest-combined time will win the Sprint Cup.

"We were all pretty excited," said Chelsea Gray, team captain for The Bancaneers, a team established by Security BankUSA.

The Sprint Cup race is 200 meters, or half the distance of the full dragon-boat races held throughout the day Saturday.

The length of the Sprint Cup course, Gray said, played into the team's decision to participate.

"You get completely exhausted in the long race," she said.

Joe Gennes, the team captain for Dondelinger's Moto Dragons, said his team is "confident" about both tonight's and Saturday's races.

Sprint Cup teams must also be registered for Saturday's races but can use separate rosters.

Tippy Gregg, the team captain of Dick's Plumbing & Heating of Bemidji's Pine Tree Paddlers, said her team will have a mixture of people competing both days.

For seven years, the Pine Tree Paddlers have been participating in the Dragon Boat Festival and has won the Contractor's Cup three times.

A goal this year, Gregg said, is to win that cup again.

Likewise, Gray said The Bancaneers also would like to defend its Banker's Cup from last year.

"I think, between us and First National (Bank), it's always a kind of rivalry," she said.

The one potential concern for teams competing for the Sprint Cup, they said, is that paddlers might be tired Saturday after paddling hard Friday night.

"We have thought about that," Gregg said.

"It is completely exhausting," Gray said of dragon-boat paddling, "but that's what's going to be nice about having new people (roster changes), those that don't race Friday will race Saturday."

Hedstrom said the AmeriPride team is using the same roster both days -- "We're using (the Sprint Cup) as a training exercise" -- but said the team mostly is simply looking forward to an enjoyable community celebration.

"We actually plan all year for this (Dragon Boat Festival)," she said. "We really enjoy the whole event."

If you go...

What: Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival

When: 6 p.m. tonight Parade of Teams at the waterfront; Sprint Cup heats to follow at 7:15 p.m.; traditional races begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday