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United Way of South Mississippi plans Dragon Boat fundraiser in June

United Way of South Mississippi plans to present a "Fire on the Lake" benefit Dragon Boat Festival on June 4 at the Dock Bar & Grill in Gulfport.

Up to 50 teams will compete in the charity race, in which 20 rowers and one drummer per team paddle dragon-shaped boats 600 yards.

The United Way said Thursday the race will replace its CEO Talent Show, its main fundraiser in recent years.

"This event could lead United Way to bigger and better things," said Ron Barnes, United Way president. "We want United Way of South Mississippi to be synonymous with the communities we represent."

Registration deadline is March 15. There are three tiers of boat sponsorships -- $2,000, $8,000 and $15,000 -- for teams wishing to enter the Dragon Boat Festival. There also is a $250 VIP Patron package.

The sleek Dragon Boats, created for the fundraiser by Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing of Knoxville, Tenn., are 46 feet long and can go as fast as the teams can paddle them.

Ten teams have signed up so far, organizers said, after a Coast Electric Power Association representative challenged Mississippi Power Co. personally.

Fifty boats are available for teams on a first-come, first-serve basis.

John Dane of The Dock Bar & Grill said he hopes the Dragon Boat Festival will become an annual event.

"It is not just going to be about people rowing," he said. "It will be family and fun. We will have a kids' play area, booths for businesses to set up and tents for the teams."

Campaign co-chairs Rick Williams of WLOX-TV and Brenda Waltz of Garden Park Medical said the race promises to be a lot of fun.

"It is about creating bonds," Williams said. "Twenty rowers per team, somebody gets to beat the drum, you can challenge other teams -- and wear costumes if you want."

Organizers said the race will benefit, among other programs, United Way's reading initiatives such as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

More information is available at www.unitedwaysm.org.

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