• Scottish Games are growing
• Celebration of heritage
• Athletics of a different breed
Far from “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond,” nestled in the Midwest, you will find kilt-clad athletes and spectators making their way to Scottish Highland Games and festivals each fall.
The earliest Highland games were said to have originated from the Scottish clan system. When a chieftain called his members (family clan) together to devise plans for raids against rivals, challenging tests of speed and strength proved the most powerful warriors. These clan gatherings could become days of feasting and entertainment, and often friendly clans would join together in festivities.
The St. Louis Scottish Games (SLSG) will host its 15th annual event this year, on September 29-30. “There is a huge amount of diversity in the Games, and every element has its own unique needs. The Games are a celebration of Scottish culture, both modern and historical,” explained Mark Sutherland, board member of the St. Louis Scottish Games. “In addition to the athletics, we feature two music stages (one Celtic rock and one folk), Highland Dancing competitions, bagpipe and drum competitions, sword fighting demonstrations, birds of prey demonstrations, sheepdog demonstrations, children’s activities, whisky tasting, Scottish ale (produced specifically for the event by Schlafly), a variety of Scottish food and drink, Scottish vendors, a clan village where you can meet members of your clan and research your historical ties to Scotland, and much more. It takes a large team of volunteers to pull it off each year.”
“When it comes to the week of setup and tear down, and the weekend itself; there are well over 200 volunteers,” described Justin D. Booth, President, Columbus Scottish Festival. On September 9-10, 2017, Columbus, IN will host its 26th annual Scottish Festival. Though the Scottish Games and festivals across the Midwest are similar in events held, they each have their own take on event specifications, based on location, attendees, and vendors. The Columbus Scottish Festival includes the Highland Hustle 5K race in their mix of events.
“We start planning in October for the event the following September. Basically, when each Games is over, we start again,” said Sutherland. Booth’s sentiments were similar, “As a committee we will meet socially in October, otherwise we meet at least monthly ‘round-the-year.’ Some decisions on advertising and funding have to be made as far as 14 months prior to the next event.”
With an assortment of competitions, including the Caber Toss, Hammer Throw, Open Stone Throw, and Sheaf Toss to name a few, planning and timelines are a huge part of the festivities. Many events are happening simultaneously, with Highland Games in one field, entertainment in different tents or pavilions, and other weekend competitions mixed in. Sutherland spoke on event coordination, “Good communication is key. We stake out our field a week prior to the event so everyone knows where their section is located…those in charge of each area are well versed in their area’s needs. Load in takes place Thursday, with events on Friday and Saturday.”
According to Sutherland, “Most events are fairly safe if you are paying attention.” Areas are blocked off for competitors only and EMS is on staff. The Caber toss is the most dangerous. An athlete needs to be properly trained for Caber tossing in order to lift and toss without sustaining personally injury, but should this 30 ft., heavy log become off balance, the athlete must react quickly to release and move away from the caber as it is likely to recoil after hitting the ground.
Men, women, and children, professionals and amateurs all have a chance to compete. In St. Louis, men and women, whether professional or amateur, all compete together. “A few World Records have been set at our past events,” Sutherland shared, “And last year a woman won the overall event.” Columbus hosts Men’s A, B, and C Class, Women’s A and Open Class, as well as Men’s and Women’s Masters (40+ years of age), Men’s Lightweight (190 lbs. or less), and Youth (12-16 years of age). “We hope offering the Women’s A Class, which is new to us this year, attracts additional elite women athletes,” stated Chuck Braidich, Athletic Director, Columbus Scottish Games.
Whether you are of Scottish heritage, or just wish you were, Scottish Games and Festivals are full of diverse competition and fun for all ages. Consider hosting a local event and sending your champions to larger events, such as those mentioned here or others across the Midwest. Grab the pipes and bang the drums.
Slàinte mhath! (To Good Health)