In Howard County, public schools strive to best one another in test scores. Neighborhoods try to outdo one another in spring plantings. Businesses vie to be the victors, not only in market share but community commitment.
It all comes together tomorrow, as school, community and business organizations compete for top honors in creating a people-powered cardboard boat capable of completing a 200-yard course on Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia.
Scott Grice, chairman of the Howard County Boat Float, said the event grew from an idea resurrected by the Rotary Clubs of Howard County. "Over a decade ago, there were cardboard boat races on Lake Kittamaqundi," he said. "We decided to create one ourselves, assembling representatives from each of the seven clubs in Howard County."
Grice has seen the event grow over three years, the past two of which have been in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts. The Boat Float is part of LakeFest, which serves as the kickoff for Columbia Festival of the Arts, which starts today and runs through June 24.
The grand parade of boat teams begins at the dock at 12:30 p.m., with the first heats at 1 p.m. Winners will be announced at 3 p.m.
"The event is not a fundraiser," Grice said. The fees charged by the Rotary Clubs of Howard County cover only promotional costs and the expense of having a rescue squad and scuba divers on site. A committee of 16 Rotarians has been working on organizing the Boat Float, and more than 40 people will be volunteering tomorrow to make sure things run smoothly.
Committee member Bob Wood is helping to build the Rotary Clubs entry. When asked why he stepped forward, Wood said: "I guess I was the last one to take a step backward when asked who would volunteer."
Wood is a builder, but acknowledges that he's "never built anything out of cardboard before."
"In the beginning, we had no idea whatsoever," said Wood. "We built a paper model, but knew we had limitations based on the size of the cardboard."
He said his team went to the Yellow Pages, searching for shipping and packing materials. Team members found that cardboard comes in 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets. Their design for the ship's hull was based on three sheets. Wood estimated that he and his team had used about a half-case of duct tape so far and a good amount of carpenter's glue.
"What makes our boat unique," he said, "is that it's six layers thick on the side, and 12 layers thick in the bottom." The boat is designed to resemble the logo on the Howard County Boat Float Web site (www.hocoboatfloat.com).
The boat has seats for the four-member crew, but, said Wood, "no cushions, no armrests, no cup holders. We do have a secret weapon, though.
"We were not going to have a bunch of Rotarians in there displacing all that water," he said. "We have 100- to 125-pound athletes - they're light and strong - from Hammond High School."
While Wood jokingly said he is coveting the event's "Titanic Award" for the most spectacular sinking, he is really hoping that the Rotary boat, named Teenytanic, will stay the course.
Meanwhile, another competitive crew has been hard at work in the warehouse of the Columbia Association's maintenance facility. Carol Wasser, Teen Outreach program manager for the Columbia Association, has assembled a cardboard-boat team from the Teen Advisory Committee.
"We have 20 or so members, but 10 or 12 have been working consistently," Wasser said. The students come from high schools throughout the county.
Four will power the boat. One is Keith Curtis, a recent graduate of Oakland Mills. "This is like my other family," he said, looking around at the students working on the boat.
Curtis was encouraged by a friend, Dessalines Jean Jacques, known as "Tou-Tou," to join the Teen Advisory Committee. When Jacques died in a car accident March 25, Curtis says he became more committed to the group. "It's a way to help the community," he said.
Heung Kook Stephens, or "H.K." as he is called, is referred to as the artist of the group by other members. A junior at Oakland Mills, he hopes to major one day in physics or engineering. Souvonik Adhya, a sophomore at River Hill, said he is learned the value in executing the artist's vision - making sure things are measured correctly and made to specifications.
Amber Henry, a Wilde Lake graduate, expressed excitement about the fact that the group was able to "actualize something as abstract as a cardboard boat." She said working on the project showed her how to use people's individual strengths to benefit the project as a whole.
C.J. Cunningham, also an Oakland Mills graduate, said, "I've been coming here off and on, but to see this all come together, to see how creative my friends are, it's really impressive."
The students have picked a patriotic theme - the boat is in the shape of an eagle - and hope to be a winner in that category. Among the several other Boat Float categories are the "Vogue Award" for the most attractive boat and the "Ugly Duckling Award," which, according to the event Web site, should be the "ugliest piece of boating cardboard in all creation."
While putting the finishing touches this week on the paint job, the group shouted possible names for the boat.
"Big Brother Tou-Tou," Curtis suggested.
If you don't have a boat, "Instant Boat Kits" are available for purchase for $50 on the day of the race. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow next to the dock. "Instant Boat" races will be held at 2:30 p.m. Information: wwww.hocoboatfloat.com.
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