There was a party going on Friday night at Bridge City’s Larry Ward Stadium. Orange County’s Relay for Life expanded far beyond American Cancer Society’s expectations for this year. Last year, 42 teams participated. The goal for this year was set at 47 teams. To Jacki Burlson’s surprise, 79 teams signed up for the annual event, almost double the goal. More than 1,100 people participated.

“I’ve never had that big of a relay,” said Burlson who is the Community Manager of Income Development for the Cancer Society. She oversees six Relay for Life events. The event closest in size to this year’s Orange County Relay was in Nederland. That event went from 57 teams to 63, which is still below the Bridge City event by 16 teams.

“It just kind of boomeranged,” said Burlson. “Seventy-five percent of the teams are brand new this year.”

According to Burlson, the teams are the Cancer Society’s best advocates. If they have fun, they tell others and more teams sign up the next year.

The word must be out because there were hundreds of participants camped out in the stadium. Tents were set up two and three deep around the edge of three-quarters of the football field. It looked like a huge pajama party, without the pajamas. People made pallets on the ground or set up air mattresses, loungers and lawn chairs in their camps, all for the walkers to rest between their laps.

On the other end there was music, a silent auction, a massage station plus the sign-in tent among other things.

Different fund raisers and activities were in most of the camps.

Invista was selling starter beads and chain for $3. Each time a lap was finished by the purchaser, they received another bead, in their choice of color, to add to their necklace.

Another team was holding a washer board tournament for pitching washers at a hole.

Baked goods could be found for sale and the concession stand had hot dogs, baked potatoes, sodas and snacks available for a donation.

A couple of hundred people were in the middle of the field line-dancing to upbeat tunes. The dance wasn’t precise like a drill team, but who cared. Everyone was laughing as some tried to out-dance their friends.

On the track, most of the participants walked laps while some ran.

Pinkish-purple luminaries in the stands spelled out “Hope” and were laid out in the shape of a ribbon, the symbol for fighting breast cancer.

“They cut off the lights awhile ago, it was beautiful (the luminaries). We all used our lights they gave us and everyone was quiet while they went around the track. You could have heard a pin drop,” said Winkie Kirby, from Orangefield.

“Isn’t this wonderful,” said Beverly Perry, of Bridge City. “Look at all these people…here…in Bridge City.”

Perry, a cancer survivor, had recently been named “Volunteer of the Year” by another organization that raises cancer awareness and promotes early detection, The Julie Rogers “Gift of Life.”

Burlson has no answer as to why participation doubled at this event. The Orange County Relay is the only one of the six that had an extraordinary gain.

Perry believes it is because it was held in Bridge City.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.