Happy 231st, U.S.A!

America's 231st birthday celebration opened in Philadelphia with a reading of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall, and descendants of signers of the original declaration were on hand for a symbolic ringing of the Liberty Bell.

Locals celebrated Independence Day in several ways, including boating on Lake Wylie, shooting and watching fireworks, taking in neighborhood parades or just enjoying the sunny weather with their favorite grilled food and cold beverage. Some of the festivities are recounted below:

Water jousting at Windjammer Park sweeps competitors off their feet

No knights, lances or noble steeds?

No problem in Tega Cay.

Residents have evolved from jousting on horses to sparring in canoes.

The seventh annual canoe joust was part of Wednesday's Fourth of July festivities in Windjammer Park.

The objective of canoe jousting is simple: Knock your opponent in the water before he or she can do the same to you.

Opponents, aided by paddlers who steady the boat, stand on platforms and swing at each other with buoy-tipped sticks.

Seth Fras has been competing for three or four years now, and was runner-up in the 12-and-under division in 2004.

"It's fun when you win," he said.

And when you lose?

"It sucks."

Austin Hair, 19, and Steve Marshall, 18, were undefeated in 2005. They were back to prove they still had the skills to prevent a spill this year.

"We decided to take a year off the competition last year and just train hard and come back this year," Hair said with mock seriousness.

The rest and the training apparently paid off.

The pair emerged undefeated once again and took home their paddle trophies.

"Great, awesome, invincible and strong. That's how I feel," Hair said after winning one match.

-- Adam MacInnis

Country Club Estates parade one of several local neighborhood shindigs

Neighbors and friends alike took to the streets for Country Club Estates' 53rd annual Fourth of July parade, one of several area neighborhood processions.

Leading the pack was America's stars and stripes atop bikes and pickup trucks.

The Vogel family turned out with 11 members for the must-do event.

"We've been in the parade for 37 years," Marsha Vogel said. "We love it."

Added Bill Vogel: "It doesn't fell like the fourth without the parade."

Angela Parrish said she remembers participating in the parade when she was as young as 7. Now 39, she wouldn't miss it.

"It's always been something special for the kids," Parrish said. "We used to decorate our bikes and paint our faces."

On Wednesday, Parrish took time out to enjoy the event with her family.

"Everybody's involved now," she said. "It's a good family tradition."

-- Toya Graham

As American as baseball, apple pie and hot dog eating

A hot-dog eating champion and a runner-up stared at the tray of hot dogs. The men and two newcomers prepared to take the plunge.

"You hungry?" asked Loyd Ardrey, owner of Ebenezer Grill.

"We'll find out," a competitor quipped.

The men grabbed their hot dogs and the race was on. The second annual Fourth of July Ebenezer Grill hot dog eating contest was one of many York County festivities in honor of Independence Day.

"It's an all-American tradition -- hot dogs, apple pie and July 4th," Ardrey said. "What could be better?"

Competitors included Dale Corzine, Rock Hill's 2006 winner. "I made a promise to come back and defend my title," said Corzine, 34, who downed 12 dogs last year.

Sam Collins, 34, placed third last year. He had a mission Wednesday: "Take him down," Collins said about Corzine.

Rosco Pardue, 20, of York, and Sam McCrorey, 27, of Rock Hill, also competed.

Midway through the 10-minute event, Collins and Corzine chewed their way into their second tray of hot dogs. Collins led by one. Corzine dipped a hot dog in water and took a bite.

"Take that hot dog out and eat it real fast," Corzine's wife, Melissa, encouraged. The crowd whooped and laughed.

Dale Corzine glared, stuffed his mouth and stole the lead.

"Good, ain't it?" he said to Collins as they chewed.

Corzine -- who polished off 13 dogs in 10 minutes -- was declared the winner.

"I thought he had me this year," Corzine said about Collins, who downed 12 dogs and claimed second place.

"I'll be back," Collins said.

McCrorey ate 11 dogs and Pardue 5 and-a-half.

Proceeds, which totaled about $100, will be donated to Pilgrims' Inn.

-- Toya Graham

Star Wars characters armed with water guns, fire trucks with screaming sirens and a steel drum band playing light summer tunes were part of a parade that attracted hundreds of Tega Cay residents who lined Tega Cay Drive on Wednesday morning.

The flag-waving spectators were there to celebrate the Fourth of July and the 25th birthday of their city.

Connie Iwinski, the longest termed Tega Cay resident, took a back seat in the parade -- the back seat of a Saab convertible at the head of the parade, that is. She served as grand marshal.

"She has lived here longer than anybody else has, so it just seemed appropriate to recognize that," said Mayor Bob Runde.

Tega Cay is a very different community from the one Iwinski came to 36 years ago. At that time, there were only 13 other families in the area, she said.

"This area was nothing for years and years and years," she said. "We had to go to Rock Hill or Charlotte to get a loaf of bread."

Despite much growth and change, the city has retained its spirit, she said. "The people from day one have always been a caring, volunteer type community," she said.

As she waved to hundreds of people who have become residents of her city, Iwinski had a wish fulfilled. "I was trying to get that in before I die -- being the grand marshal," she said. "It was quite a surprise."

-- Adam MacInnis