LUMBERTON — Practice not only makes perfect, it pays off.
At least that’s what the dancing pair of Tina Bullard and Rick Gregory attribute to their success at being named champions at Saturday’s production of the second annual Dancing with the Robeson County Stars, an event sponsored by United Way to place books in the hands of children.
“We practiced one night a week for 10 weeks in Rick’s garage,” Bullard said. “It was a lot of fun, and we’re going to help a lot of children get to learn to read at an early age.”
Although Bullard and Gregory were crowd favorites when they danced to “Ain’t too Proud to Beg,” they didn’t win the title because of their dance moves. They received the honor because they raised the most money of the 18 participating couples, more than $20,000. The team of Kellie Blue and Gary Patrick raised the second highest amount, and the team of Leland Fuller and Kewanda Merritt raised the third highest amount.
Bullard and Gregory each received a mirror-globe trophy that resembles a disco ball. The globes are similar to those awarded on the hit television show that serves as the model for the local United Way event.
This year’s event was held Friday and Saturday at the Southeastern Agricultural Events Center. A total amount of $168,000 was raised, money that will support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which provides children age 5 and younger with a book each month.
“This year’s event was a great success, ” said Sandra Oliver, the United Way’s executive director. “We topped last year’s fund-raising total of $146,000.”
Oliver ws somewhat surprised that the total raised by the dancers was more than last year, saying last-minute voting was heavy.
“There’s always a surprise,” Oliver said Saturday shortly after the collection amount was totaled. “When we added up the total Friday, we were behind what we had raised last year at the same time. There was a lot of voting done here tonight .”
Votes for one’s favorite couple ended on Thursday for everyone but those who attended the event. Votes, which cost $10 each, were accepted before the event online or in-person at the United Way Office in downtown Lumberton. Sponsorhip tables for eight people ranged from $1,000 to $3,00o.
According to Oliver, 514 attended Friday’s performance and 520 viewed the production on Saturday. Tickets to the performance were sold for $30 — enough to sponsor a Robeson County child in the early level reading program for a year.
Johnny Hunt, the superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, was among the dancers.
“This was a big success and will pay huge dividends for the school district and county,” Hunt said.
In addition to the top money-raising couple, winners were named in the categories of “Best Dressed” and “Best Dancer.”
The Best Dressed” honor went to Rebekah Revels Lowry and Bruce Mullis. There was a tie between the couples of Cheryl Lawson Page and John “Big Wayne” Robinson, and Stephanie Kinlaw and Dr. Woody Beck in the category of “Best Dancer.”
Spectators spoke well of the performance, praising the dancers for their hard work and dedication toward raising money that will help children learn to read at an early age.
“It’s as fun sitting here in the audience as it was performing,” said state Sen. Michael Walters, who was part of the dance team last year that raised the most money. “These guys did a great job.”
Eric Hackney, a Lumberton city councilman, said he thinks Dancing with the Stars is the “best event” offered in Robeson County.
“And it’s for such a good cause,” he said.
And Sylvia Nance, a BB&T employee from Lumberton, urged Robeson County residents and others to make it a point to attend next year’s event.
“This is absolutely wonderful. It’s awesome,” she said. “Everyone should try to make it a point to be here if they can.”
Considering the success of the past two years, Oliver said that another version of Dancing with the Robeson County Stars will be held next year.
“At this time we are planning to hold it again next year,” the United Way official said. “But who knows after that. Things can change.”
Judges for the competition were Superior Court Judges Frank Floyd and Greg Bell, and Donnie Douglas, the editor of The Robesonian. The judges didn’t actually judge the dancers, but instead made good-natured comments in an attempt to entertain the crowd.