September 23, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Bubbles, hula hoops and hundreds of tireless people dedicated to making Union County a drug-free community will all be found this weekend at La Grande High School's track and field.

The track is the site of the fifth-annual Union County 24-Hour Relay. The event is a symbol of county residents' commitment to create a drug-free community.

Check-in will be from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Saturday. The relay will run from 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday. An awards ceremony will follow.

Individuals will walk and run on 10-member teams. An entrant will cover a mile (four times around the track) and then hand the baton to a teammate.

The features of this year's relay will include several changes of pace — novelty laps in which runners and walkers will do such things as blow soap bubbles and spin hula hoops.

Another feature will be prize laps. During these laps the name of a team will be drawn. The individual on the track representing that team will receive a prize donated by a sponsor.

Twenty teams have signed up, but entries are still being accepted, said Mary Ann Miesner, one of the relay's organizers.

Up to 40 teams of 10 people each can enter the relay. The registration fee is $400 a team or $40 per person. People also have the option of forming a team that runs or walks for 12 hours instead of 24.

Registration is still being accepted. To sign up a team call Craig Nightingale at 963-2200 (work) or 963-8673 (home), or Rick Stanton, 963-6010.

Relay proceeds will be used to help fund programs and organizations that promote a drug-free community and healthy lifestyle activities for Union County youth.

Senior citizens who cannot participate in the relay can contribute through the Seniors Support Students program. Through SSS, a senior can pay $40 and allow a young person to participate. SSS is meant to help youths who want to participate but did not have time to raise the money.

Seniors sponsoring a young person will be sent an SSS button. To sign up call Pam Dodds at 663-3397.

From 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, relay participants will run and walk to the accompaniment of live music. Musicians slated to perform include Too Loud MacLeod and The Silencers with Jerry Smith; Thacher Carter; the Hell Hounds; Ezra Axelrod; I4NI; Bern Youngblood and Co. and others.

A disc jockey dance will be conducted from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Songs will be provided by Music To The Extreme.

The relay continues during the dance and music.

The event site will be closed to the public between 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Sunday. No music will be played and no announcements will be made via the loudspeaker as a courtesy to neighbors.

Throughout the relay a registered nurse or other trained medical professionals will be on hand. Meals and drinks will be available to participants and volunteers. Dinner will be served from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and breakfast will be served from 7 to 8 a.m. The meals will be available to the public for a small price.

One key participant in this year's relay will be the National Guard. The local unit will provide tables, chairs and other equipment.

The National Guard relay team is always involved in a spirited competition with La Grande High School's senior team. At last year's relay, the National Guard team completed 153 miles to finish ahead of the LHS team.

LHS's seniors again have at least one team entered. It is one of about four teams from the school that will participate.

Teams are also entered from the Training and Employment Consortium; the La Grande School District's administrators and staff; Greenwood Elementary School; the La Grande Middle School, which will have four teams; First Christian Church; Church of the Nazarene; Central Elementary School; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other organizations.

Volunteers are still needed for the relay. Call Karen Hamilton at 963-6725 (days).