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Dragons to awake at annual boat festival

Special Photo. Dragon boats like the one seen here will be on display Saturday during the Awakening of the Dragon Ceremony at Coolray Field.

Special Photo. Dragon boats like the one seen here will be on display Saturday during the Awakening of the Dragon Ceremony at Coolray Field.

BUFORD -- Arrive early for Saturday's Gwinnett Braves doubleheader to see dancing lions, chanting monks and firebreathing dragons.

Those who buy a ticket to the stadium can observe these and other traditions steeped in 2,300 years of Chinese culture.

Held from 3 to 5 p.m., the inaugural Awakening of the Dragon Ceremony at Coolray Field gives organizers a chance to showcase eight brand-new vessels that will be used for the 16th annual Dragon Boat Festival.

While the festival itself won't be held until Sept. 10 at Clarks Bridge racing venue in Hall County, Saturday's event is a chance to learn about the race and sign up to be a part of it as well.

A dragon boat is a thin, 39-foot vessel powered by a team of paddlers. Usually made of teak or fiberglass, the boats have dragon heads on the prow and tails on the stern.

The annual gathering draws athletes from a variety of backgrounds including high school, collegiate, corporate and international teams.

"It's a quasi-opening ceremony for the race," said Gwinnett Braves spokesman Nick Margiasso. "It's made bigger because of the fact that they're getting all new boats ... they're going to talk to visitors about the significance of the boats, and they'll bring them out for people to take a look at."

Margiasso added that the ceremony will feature performance art, speeches and a visit from politicians and community leaders.

Dragon Boat Festival Organizer Jackson Chang said Saturday's event symbolizes "the awakening of the dragon spirit before the festival begins."

Saturday's schedule includes an opening ceremony, introduction of the dragon boats, lion dance, monks' blessing, a dotting of the dragon eye ceremony and speeches by those involved.

Margiasso said attending the Awakening of the Dragon Ceremony is a chance for Gwinnett Braves to stretch a dollar.

"It's before our doubleheader on Saturday, so you can actually show up at the park at 3 and leave about 11 ... really get your money's worth."

For more information, visit www.dragonboatatlanta.com.