Festival offers weekend fun for students and community

Students looking to get off campus for a day and interact with the Shoals community can attend the second Shoals Dragon Boat Festival at McFarland Park Oct. 18.

At least 32 local teams will race down the river in Chinese-style dragon boats to raise money for Kilby Laboratory School.

“It’s really like no other event on the Tennessee River,” said Carole Maynard, director of communications for the event. “It’s something completely different for this area.”

The event begins at 9 a.m. with Mayor Mickey Haddock awakening the dragon by painting eyes on the Chinese-style dragonhead, Maynard said.

The teams are timed throughout the morning as they race toward O’Neal Bridge, and the top 12 teams compete after lunch to determine the winner.

Because the boats are so large, only three to four teams race at one time, Maynard said.

She said students and other community members are encouraged to watch the races, cheer on their favorite teams and enjoy lunch.

At noon, drummers from each team will perform and compete.

Food vendors include Sperry’s, Yummies, Smokin’ on the Boulevard, Sam’s Sports Grill and several others.

“Last year we had a few boats from UNA, but this year we have a lot,” Maynard said. “We’re glad the university is getting involved.”

UNA teams include each of the academic colleges, Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, the Honors Student Organization and the Outdoor Adventure Center, she said.

“It’s just a fun way to get people outside, and it’s close by our campus,” said McKenzie Martin, coordinator of the Outdoor Adventure Center. “McFarland is beautiful, and it’s a good opportunity to meet people and enjoy the nice weather we’ve got in the fall.”

Martin said raising money for Kilby is important to her team.

“The event supports an entity within UNA, and the festival is outdoors, so we wanted to get involved,” she said.

Each team sets up a booth at the event and is encouraged to develop a theme for its display, Maynard said.

Honors Student Organization member Hailey Boeck said the team’s booth will offer free food to visitors.

“Anyone is welcome at our Honors tent,” Boeck said. “Come and watch the races, cheer for a team, take pictures and get some healthy snacks. It’s a beautiful day.”

Maynard said the event coordinators hope to double the attendance this year from 1,500 last year.

Boeck said the Honors Organization participated last year, and is excited to return for its second race.

“Who can say they’ve been on a dragon boat unless they’ve been in the festival?” she said. “Last year it was a blast, and we had so much fun. Plus, it’s a great team building experience.”

Maynard said she hopes the weather for the event is similar to last year.

“It was such a beautiful day, and fall was in the air,” she said. “With so many UNA students and professors getting involved, there’s going to somebody students know there.”