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20th boat parade shines

LAKE WYLIE -- The lake level was not an issue for this year's 20th annual Lights on the Lake boat parade. In fact, the level was a little too high.

"Some of the larger boats couldn't fit under the bridge," said Susan Bromfield, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce.

The parade was cancelled last winter because of low lake levels due to the drought.

Bromfield said this was "by far the biggest parade" she'd ever seen.

"We had at least 25 or 30 boats," she said. "It was hard to tell because some people decorated their boats and just came out to enjoy the festivities -- which is fine."

She said the mild winter weather was a reason for the boost in participation.

The array of sparkling boats was plenty for the panel of judges, made up of both children and adults, to choose the award winners.

"We wanted to use kids as judges. They look at things from a different perspective," Bromfield said.

First prize went to Brad Thomas, whose boat was covered with lights and included a sleigh and eight reindeer, Bromfield said.

"Everyone on their boat was dressed up as elves or reindeer. I don't think they stopped singing all night," Bromfield said.

Thomas, who won the 2006 parade for his shrimp boat theme, said he and friend Mike Calvert brainstormed to come up with the idea.

"The kids love it, and we love doing it," he said.

It took Thomas and his 21 helpers two days to prepare for the parade.

After the parade, all the elves and reindeer also celebrated Calvert's birthday.

"We were already talking about what we might do next year," Thomas said.

Second prize went to George Medler, whose boat was recognizable because of the big, blue cross.

Third prize went to Joel Summitt, owner of Harbortown Marina.

"We do this every year. It's our 7th year," Summitt said. "It's really fun. Seeing all the people is the best part."

The Kennington family also earned an honorable mention from the judges.

However, not everyone entered the parade to compete.

"Decorating the boat was the most fun part," said Nellie Helton, who spent the night on the McNally family's boat.

"We did this because of our fantastic Christmas grandkids," said Karen McNally. "We have four generations and one golden retriever on this boat."

McNally said her family loves the parade and hopes they can take part in it as long as they live on the lake.

Pilot editor Catherine Muccigrosso contributed to this story.