July 16, 2003 11:00 pm

It's a party. It's a celebration. It's a community affair. It's Curry County Relay for Life.

Relay chairwoman Leanne McCurley and members of her 14 committees worked all year to make last weekend's event special for all participants, and to raise $50,000 for cancer research.

They all agreed that the 2003 Relay for Life was a rousing success, not with the highest number of participants for any of the six years, but with the greatest spirit, McCurley said.

"It was very successful and everyone had a great time," she said. "This is about being a community that takes up the fight."

It was an emotional moment on Saturday morning when McCurley officially resigned after chairing the relay since its inception in Curry County six years ago.

The $50,000 goal for this year's event had not been achieved as of Tuesday, but with $43,292 collected by the end of the relay Saturday and donations being accepted until Aug. 31, McCurley said they expect to reach the goal by the deadline.

Anyone who missed the relay and hasn't made a donation can still support the cancer research efforts by turning in donations to McCurley at the J.C. Penney catalogue store at the Abbey Mall on Oak Street.

This year, things started happening on the Brookings Harbor High School football field by 7 a.m. Friday morning with committee members setting up displays, sound system, stage, food dispensary and Mardi Gras-themed decorations.

The 18 registered teams began setting up tent sites early in the afternoon, and some of those sites were elaborately decorated.

Members from each team began walking laps shortly after the survivors' lap at 8 p.m. Friday night, and rotating team members continued walking until noon on Saturday.

Frank Wilson from South Coast Lumber Co. set an all-time record for the relay. He walked continually from the beginning Friday evening until early morning Saturday, covering 200 laps, equaling 50 miles, without stopping.

Sticking with the theme of "Mardi Gras," each team carried a baton around the field, accepting a string of beads with each lap. Prizes for top number of beads earned went to the Curry Good Samaritan Center Bourbon Street Belles. This was the first year for the center to participate, and those belles earned top honors for best costumes and best-decorated camp site, as well.

In addition to Bourbon Street Belles, there were Party Animals and Saints among the marchers.

Other first place winners were Town and Country Animal Clinic's Party Animals for the best baton, and Yoga and Friends for best float.

Chetco Federal Credit Union teams topped the fund-raising charts with $10,095. Brookings Presbyterian Church Saints turned in a second-place $3,013, and the Umpqua Bank team raised $2,609. Pat Orr hung onto her title of highest single fundraiser for the sixth straight year with $1,695.

After six years as chairman of the Curry County Relay for Life, Leanne McCurley turned the reins for next year's relay over to 2004 co-chairs Diane Caveness and Sandy Harper.

"Next year we'll do even better," said McCurley, who vows to continue to be an involved booster and participant.

In addition to all of the fun and games, there were some very touching moments for all participants, beginning with survivors' opening lap and the candlelight ceremony when all luminarias surrounding the track were lighted in honor of cancer survivors and victims.

Survivor Diane Caveness then gave a moving speech about the true meaning of the relay – saving lives.

As camp sites were being taken down Saturday and teams were preparing to leave the field, many were already making plans for next year's decorations and costumes for "Once Upon a Time."