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After a year hiatus, dragon boat race returns to West Point Lake

After taking a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Point Lake Dragon Boat race is returning this year.

The race will take place at Pyne Road Park at 8:30 a.m. on July 10. The race will start at the Mega Ramp and run about a quarter of a mile, according to Harmony House executive director Michele Bedingfield.

The event is being hosted by the Harmony House board of directors, earning money for the Harmony House domestic violence shelter.

One out of four women has been impacted by domestic violence, Bedingfield said.

“When we do events like this, and we have a boat that has 21 people on it, chances are someone on there has had a sister or themselves, or there’s someone that has been impacted by domestic violence,” Bedingfield said.

Bedingfield isn’t sure how much money the event will make this year, but she said that on average, the event usually clears $35,000 to $40,000.

The race’s official website explains that dragon boat racing is held in “Hong Kong-style,” meaning utilizing a 46-foot-long boat with a drummer and a team of up to 20 paddlers. The drummer sets the pace for the paddlers. Additionally, Bedingfield said that each team has a professional steerer who stands in the very back of the boat. In order to move steadily through the water, the paddlers must paddle in sync with one another.

Bedingfield said good teamwork is crucial for winning a dragon boat race. Even if a team is “totally fit and athletic,” if it doesn’t work well together, “it’s not going to go in the right direction.”

Both the event, itself and teams are sponsored. This year’s presenting sponsor is Mike Patton Auto Family. The dock sponsors are Milliken and The Medicine Cabinet, and the hospitality sponsors are the Troup County government and Mexican restaurant Los Nopales. Mannington is the parking entrance sponsor, and LaGrange Beverage is the parking exit sponsor.

First, second, and third-place winning teams receive trophies. The trophies are different every year. In the past, some have come from China, whereas others have been hand-made in LaGrange.

“[We’ll] have to wait and see what this year’s looks like. It’s always a nice surprise,” Bedingfield said.

Teams can also get trophies for winning voting contests.

“In addition to first, second, and third, we have a trophy for the best team spirit, the best tailgating area, the best drummer … and the best team name,” said Bedingfield.

Each team gets a tailgating spot.

“And within their tailgating spot, they can have games or activities or promotional items or free giveaways…” Bedingfield said.

Spectators can attend the event for free and enjoy activities at the tailgating areas. There is no parking fee, but drivers are encouraged to park in the designated parking area rather than the street. This year’s event will also have food trucks.

The tentative schedule for the event begins at 6:45 a.m. for team registration and setting up tailgate areas. All paddlers must be present for the opening ceremony at 8:15 a.m. The race begins at 8:30 a.m. There will be morning heats, a lunch break, afternoon heats and a closing ceremony. The times for these will be announced later.

Bedingfield explained that the race is divided into heats. If a team’s average race time for the first two heats puts it among the top 12 teams, it gets to go into the third heat.

Something Bedingfield said she appreciates about the dragon boat races is the diversity of its participants.

Harmony House opened in 2005 and was fully certified by the Department of Human Services in 2008. It is a United Way agency that serves domestic violence victims and their children 24/7 by providing emergency shelter, meals, crisis intervention, safety planning, counseling, transportation, legal assistance, childcare, advocacy, and training for self-sufficiency. It also promotes domestic violence awareness to the community.

In the last five years, Harmony House estimated to have responded to 4,221 crisis calls, sheltered 583 residents including 258 children, and served 545 clients through their outreach office.

Harmony House has a 24-hour crisis line at (706) 885-1525.