Dragons return for festival

A team competes in the 2014 Dragon Boat Festival. This will be the fourth year of the festival. 

The Shoals Dragon Boat Festival has been a major part of local festival season since 2013, and the fourth annual event will be no different.

Members of the community will gather Oct. 1 in McFarland Park in Florence beginning at 9 a.m. to race dragon boats and raise money for Kilby Laboratory School.

In heats of three, 22-member teams gather to race, with the top 12 competing after the lunch break in the finals.

Event Coordinator Emily Rhodes said she expects the fundraiser to bring in around $10,000 for the school. In the past three years combined, it has raised around $18,000.

“This year, they’re going to use most of it to turn the library into the Leo Lab,” she said. “They’re trying to raise enough money to buy a 3-D printer and some video equipment and a green screen. They’re trying to bring more technology to help students learn.”

The festival usually draws around 3,000 – 4,000 people, and since the beginning, UNA has had a presence in the races, she said.

“Our first year was probably primarily students on the UNA teams,” she said. “The next year, we got a lot of faculty and staff when the colleges started competing.”

This year, 10 of the 30 registered teams are from UNA, she said. The number of staff and faculty who participate also increases yearly.

“Our atmosphere for the day is kind of like a big tailgate,” she said. “Everybody sets up, and a lot of people start grilling and bring potluck food.”

Vice President of Student Affairs David Shields, who participated last year, will be part of the Irate Pirates team comprised of Student Affairs and Student Government Association Members.

Shields said he looks forward to the connection competing will bring to the campus community.

“I think it is a great way to interact with students,” he said. “They get to see faculty and staff in a different light. It shows we are fun, too, and makes it easier for students to approach us.”

The community atmosphere also includes the children, Rhodes said.

“At Kilby, most of our students have parents who are faculty and staff,” she said. “It turns into a family event. It’s just a neat way to bring it all together, to have departments come together to support kids at our school.”

The Dragon Boat Festival has also created opportunities for campus groups to find ways to get involved, said Veterans’ Affairs Specialist Michelle Dailey.

The UNA Military and Veteran Alliance will compete for the first time, she said. The team’s initial goal was to gather enough members to compete.

“Now, for us to have a team — It means something to our group here at UNA,” she said.

MVA team member and freshman Chris Waters said although he looks forward to interacting with faculty, staff and the community after the races, that won’t be his goal.

“I’m focused on winning,” he said. “Even if we win or lose, we’re still going to put 110 percent in it no matter what.”

However, Waters said he would like to see more of the campus community involved in future races.

“It would be really cool if we have a boat that was nothing but faculty and staff as a team,” he said. “They could take part in challenging the rest of the teams through this event.”

All in all, the races allow the participants to interact with Kilby, said Amanda Sizemore, Administrative Assistant for Elementary Education and member of the College of Education and Human Sciences team, the Edugators.

“Kilby is so important to the College of Education and Human Sciences, and this is a fun way to band together show to support,” she said.