The ladies from the yacht club with the red foam crab visors were among the first to show up. The young women from Kalamazoo, Mich., on the family reunion at Solomons Island wandered along the boardwalk and took a seat in the back of the gazebo, because you don't see this every day. Former Calvert County commissioner Robert L. Swann joined the growing throng, saying, "Everywhere I've been the last few days, people have been talking about it. Hell, yeah."

More than 100 people convened on Solomons yesterday morning in a tight cluster along the edge of the Patuxent River under a radiant blue sky, all for the Mark-and-Sarah phenomenon.

Pink T-shirts materialized with their photo. Hotel marquees along the highway touted their names. A cardboard sign in the audience paid homage to Mark's striking appearance: "We {heart} bald men." More than once, Sarah's cascading blond hair was described as "adorable."

They are Mark Dale, 26, of Lusby, and Sarah Raley, 23, of Valley Lee, and yesterday they were chosen by television viewers nationwide to be the featured couple on the "Today" show's contest " 'Today' throws a hometown wedding." Beating out hundreds of other couples who sent in video applications, including three other finalists from Hampden, Maine, Bucks County, Pa., and Seattle, the Southern Maryland sweethearts were chosen live on national television, earning a "whoo!" from the crowd that joined to hear the news.

Over the next eight weeks, the cameras will traverse Southern Maryland to document the wedding planning process, allowing Internet voters (perfect strangers) the chance to choose the cake, ring, location, attire, hairstyle and so on, culminating in a Sept. 16 wedding. Such an abdication of power is just fine with Raley, director of sales at the Hampton Inn in Lexington Park.

"Mark and I are both very organized; we plan a lot of things," she said. "But I am not good at making decisions for myself. . . . I can't make up my mind. I would love for America to choose everything for me.

They have been together six years. They are both "water fanatics" who go boating, water-skiing and lounging on rafts, Raley said.

They were born at St. Mary's Hospital and attended Leonardtown High School; he was a senior, she a freshman, but, as she said, "Seniors don't date freshmen. That's for sure." They grew close at the Pro Fitness gym, where she worked out and Dale works as the general manager. They went on their first date at Catamaran's Restaurant, across the street from where the television cameras were set up, where NBC producer Gina Garcia whipped her arm around and shouted: "Start the energy! Start the energy!"

But the audience needed little prodding. They wanted the whole town to know, perhaps the whole world, that this was their Mark, their Sarah. They threw up their hands and screamed, "Whoo!"

Mark Dale and Sarah Raley react to the news that they have won a "Hometown Wedding" on NBC's "Today" show.