HARTFORD — About 20 high school and college students stand in two rows, paddling in place while their coach shouts instructions.
The team is practicing for this weekend’s Dragon Boat and Asian Festival on the Connecticut River in Hartford.
The Southington-based team, the Dragon Slayers, will race on Saturday against other community teams. Semi-professional teams race on Sunday.
Most of the students have raced before. Last year, the Dragon Slayers took third place in the second-highest division.
“I’ve seen some growth,” said Austin Coley, a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island who finds racing a good way to spend time with friends outdoors.
Stephen Peccerillo, a sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, believes the team will again be in the B division and has a long way to go to make the A division. Teams of ESPN employees dominate the A division.
“All those guys are fit,” Peccerillo said.
Community teams include those organized by individuals and businesses, said Bill Sullivan, program manager for Riverfront Recapture.
Dragon boats are about 40 feet long and rowers use short paddles rather than the long oars of a crewing shell.
About 10,000 people attended the Asian festival and race last year, Sullivan said.
“They’re drawing more and more every year,” he said.
Shannon McEnerney, a high school senior from Meriden, is one of a handful trying the sport for the first time. She was invited by a friend.
“It’ll be a new experience,” she said.
Once in the water, the crew paddles to the beat of a drummer sitting in the back of the boat. They work on paddling in time and taking commands, such as “paddles up” from their coach.
The Dragon Slayers were organized and funded by the Rogus family. Joe Rogus Jr. started it three years ago and, through fundraising and family help, was able to raise the entrance fee.
His mother, Mei Rogus, said this was his first year missing the race. He’s in the Baltic Sea with the Semester at Sea program.
Mei Rogus praised the students’ hard work.
“The kids are really into it,” she said. Boaters come from Southington, West Hartford, Glastonbury, Meriden and other towns.
Creating a team was a way for her son to have something to do while school was out.
“It’s great for the kids to keep busy in the summer,” Mei Rogus said.