LaGRANGE — The competition was fierce on the lake at Pyne Road Park on Saturday as 20 teams battled it out in the inaugural West Point Lake Dragon Boat Races.
The war on the water benefited Harmony House, a state certified emergency shelter that serves victims of domestic violence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The organization’s headquarters is in Troup County, but the group provides services to women, men and teens in surrounding communities as well.
Teams of two crews in separate dragon boats hit the water to battle it out with paddles, speed, endurance and a drummer who was responsible for keeping members in sync with each other and cheering them on to victory.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” said Hollie Marchman, a member of Harmony House’s Purple Dragons crew, as she laughed. “But it’s been a blast. I’d do it again, any time.”
“I like getting together as a team and participating for a cause,” said teammate Aimee Vael.
Other participants included teams from the LaGrange police and fire departments, Troup County Sheriff’s Office, West Point Police Department, Mike Patton Auto and several local businesses. They competed against each other in every race, and also for the best time on the water, best drummer and most original crew name.
Hundreds of people showed up to the race, which had a festival-like atmosphere filled with decorative tents for each team, plus food, music and more.
“It has far exceeded anything I imagined,” said Michele Bedingfield, executive director of Harmony House. “I know Troup County shows up and supports events, but I had no idea we’d have the amount of people show up, and show out, like we did today (Saturday).”
Supporters also opened their wallets. A preliminary total showed the inaugural West Point Lake Dragon Boat Races raised $38,000 to $40,000 dollars for the domestic violence organization, said Bedingfield.
While the morning races went off without a hitch, afternoon thunderstorms flared up about 12:30 p.m., causing the rest of the event to be delayed an hour. Unfortunately, more storms rolled in and just after 1:30 p.m., race organizers called off the afternoon activities.
Lou’s Crew, made up of officers and firefighters with the LaGrange police and fire departments, won the event and had the best time overall, completing a heat in 1 minute and 2 seconds. The awards for best drummer went to the Troup County High School baseball team and best team name went to CharterBank, whose crew was named Dragon Our Assets.
Though the rain and thunderstorms cut the event short, it did little to dampen the spirits of crew members in the dragon boats.
“Everyone that came off the boat, I asked them if they’d do it again,” said Bedingfield. “They all said yes.”
Harmony House officials were so happy with the community support and turnout, they already set the date for next year’s event as July 15.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.