The coronavirus pandemic has kept the dragon boats in drydock for the past two years, but on Monday the Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation announced the popular Dragon Boat Festival and fundraiser will return to Decatur’s Point Mallard Park on May 14.

“The return of the dragon boats is big for morale around the hospital,” said Larry Payne, foundation development director. “The community and the companies have really embraced it. The employees are excited about the event returning to be a part of the new normal.”

The 46-foot-long dragon-headed boats have 20 paddlers whose synchronized strokes are directed by a costumed drummer. The 200-meter race course typically takes teams about one minute. The day-long festival has attracted thousands of spectators in past years.

In the previous eight festivals, about $1 million has been raised for foundation projects, Payne said, with each event netting between $100,000 to $150,000. This year’s money will go toward the purchase of a second daVinci Robotic Surgical System. He said it comes with a price tag of about $1.5 million. He said the Huntsville Hospital System and other fundraisers help pay for the equipment, too.

The robotic system is designed to allow surgeons, at a computer console, to perform surgeries with smaller incisions than conventional surgery, allowing for precision and shorter hospital stays. 

“Recovery time is so much faster because of this (system),” Payne said. “The surgeons and the public will be glad when we get a second device.”

Payne said some teams enter the festival to win, while others enter for the fun and excitement. The Lynn Layton team, a perennial powerhouse, is one of a few teams that had already signed up as of Monday afternoon. The Lynn Layton team has won five of the eight previous festivals and has competed internationally.

Mark McGraw, vice president of construction for Marathon Electrical Contractors based in Birmingham, said his company will get its feet wet as a first-time competitor this year.

He said that in 2019 the company considered entering it after seeing some of their business partners such as Toray and 3M participate. He said the event's cancellation the past two years hasn’t dampened the company’s enthusiasm for sporting a team of 20 paddlers, four alternates and a drummer.

McGraw said Marathon Electrical has about 600 employees including roughly 200 in north Alabama.

“We see it as a really cool idea, and we’re using it as a team-building exercise,” he said. He anticipates the 25 or so team members will include field electricians and office personnel.

“This first year for us, it will be a like a company outing,” he said. “Then we’ll see how competitive we want to be in the future. We’re certainly glad it’s back, and we’re looking forward to it."

Payne said the hospital usually fields four or five teams. In the past, some teams have come from Birmingham and Huntsville.

“Ideally, I’d like to see 60 teams enter,” he said. “But with COVID, I realize some companies are still working from home and some may have downsized. It’s too early to say how many we might get this year. The company we get our boats from says our festival is one of the largest in the Southeast.”

The entry fee is $1,500 per team, with races beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding at about 4 p.m. 

For more information about the event, visit decaturmorganfoundation.org.

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mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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