Water ball, cartand mower racesat annual festival

Smith River fire captains Jeramy Phillips and Tim Nolan faced off in full fire gear, arms weighed down with fire hoses shooting water full blast.

Each firefighter directed his stream of water at a pink buoy suspended between two a-frames high above Beckstead Avenue in Smith River as onlookers watched. His goal: To push the buoy into his opponent's a-frame.

"The game's been around since the '60s," said Matt Berry, a captain with the Fort Dick Volunteer Fire Department, as he watched. "I've been here for 15 years and played water ball as long as I can remember."

Firefighters from Smith River and Fort Dick set up the water ball course Saturday as part of the annual Smith River Days. Nolan said the departments were going to hold an exhibition for the crowd, the departments competing against each other. But before the contest could start, Nolan and the other firefighters had to leave on a medical call. By the time they got back the crowd had dispersed.

Instead of holding an exhibition, Nolan and Phillips held a grudge match to see who could score first. Nolan said he and Phillips sometimes play on the same team and also compete in waterball tournaments.

In the second contest, each firefighter made the right move to counteract his opponent until Nolan sent a blast of water, driving the buoy to within inches of Phillip's a-frame. But Phillip held his position, keeping the buoy from going any farther until one of the firefighters on the sidelines blew the whistle and the game was over.

"That was a battle," Nolan exclaimed.

The festival featured vendors and games for the kids, as well as shopping cart races. Perhaps the highlight of the festival, however, was the lawn mower races in the field behind the town hall.

According to Colleen Luttrell, one of the organizers for Smith River Days, people came from as far away as Rio Dell and Happy Camp to compete.

"Everybody waits all year for the lawn mower races," she said.

Race organizer Matt Currier said this is the first time Smith River Days has featured super lawn mowers.

"We've got ones that can go up to 40 to 50 miles per hour," he said. "Everyone's got helmets on. We try to keep it as safe as possible."

Tina Haddad competed against her boyfriend, Ron Dalbec. Dalbec's John Deere lawnmower dwarfed Haddad's lawn mower. But the smaller model, which was built in 1961, proved to be the faster.

"That's an actual lawn mower," said Haddad, who won against her boyfriend's John Deere lawn mower and another John Deere mower. "Yeah, that was cool."

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@tripicate.com.