Harrison County

1st Dragon Boat Festival honors memory of man whose passion was children

GULFPORT -- The rumble of drums heard on Gulfport Lake could have been mistaken for thunder on the overcast day Saturday as teams competed in the 2016 Dragon Boat Festival Fire on the Lake. The inaugural event at The Dock Bar & Grill was hosted by United Way of South Mississippi.

Twenty area companies and organizations fielded teams for the fundraiser, proceeds of which will support the early-childhood education projects of United Way of South Mississippi.

Each boat held 20 paddlers and one drummer to keep cadence. A professional steersman, or coach, assisted the teams on rowing instructions. The United Stated Coast Guard supervised the 250-meter course.

United Way was inspired to put on the dragon boat races by other cities that had participated in the Chinese team-paddling sport.

"It just seemed like a perfect fit for Gulfport," said Cynthia Minton-Walker, CEO of United Way of South Mississippi. "We have the water, we have the sun and we like boats. What better thing to do than to have a lot of fun with that? You see the dragon tales and the heads (on the boats). These people are excited."

The event was dedicated to Minton-Walker's husband, Fred Walker of Long Beach, who died Thursday, just two days before the festival. He had bought a dragon boat before his death. His children and colleagues raced in his memory on behalf of his Long Beach State Farm insurance office.

Minton-Walker said because her husband's passion was children, the United Way will honor his legacy through improvements in children's programming.