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Rugby tournaments, an army of bagpipes, and 20’ logs thrown end-over-end…

The hugely popular annual Indiana Highland Games is a feast of all things Scottish

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


On June 11th, Fort Wayne will play host to its own patch of historic Scotland when the 19th annual Indiana Highland Games take place at Concordia Theological Seminary. Except at the Indiana Highland Games, the clans are friendly, the rugby competition and heavy athletics are all in fun, and the haggis is optional. Oh, and you can also take a balloon ride and eat hamburgers and hotdogs.

The Indiana Highland Games is one of the biggest and most popular events in Fort Wayne’s hyperactive summer festival schedule. Even one of the worst storms of the year on the eve of the 2004 games didn’t dissuade the crowds from showing up the next day to watch the heavy events, experience the bag pipes, and cheer on a (very muddy) rugby competition. “My goal in life is to get every person in Fort Wayne come to the Highland Games just once,” says Linda Phillips of Fort Wayne’s Scottish Historical Society and director of the games. “We have so much here it’s just incredible.”

One of the many things that make the games so popular are their wide range of activities for children. Children can pick up a “passport” at the children’s tent when they first arrive. Each visit to a clan tent — where they learn about the history and origins of the 20 – 30 clans in attendance — earns them a stamp in their passport. When they’ve filled up their passport (and learned some Scottish clan history), they get a gift. “The kids love it, the clans love it, and the parents love it,” Phillips says. “I’ll bet you I received a hundred letters the first year we did this, saying ‘this is the most wonderful thing. I had to take my child to the library the next week because they wanted all these books on Scotland.’”

In addition to this historical treasure hunt, children can also participate in miniaturized, kid-friendly versions of the legendary Heavy Athletics, like the tug-of-war, the sheaf toss, and the caber toss.

Of course, there will be the adult versions of those popular Heavy Athletics as well, and if you’ve never seen someone attempt to flip a 20’ log end-over-end, it’s quite a sight (just keep your distance). A few years ago, a contestant at the Indiana Highland Games actually set a still-standing world record for the sheaf toss — an event where participants aim to throw a 20-pound bag over high bars with a pitchfork.

Music is always a big draw at the Highland Games, and this year is no exception. The bagpipes will be out in full force, including the Fort Wayne Scottish Pipes and Drums. Rather than the standard competition, Phillips says that for the 2005 Games, they decided to have the various bands just playing for the people. “Bagpipe bands will be much more prominent,” Phillips says. “They’re going to be playing in different areas of the field, so every one can hear them.”

Another musical highlight are Clann an Drumma, a real, honest-to-goodness Scottish band that plays what they call “tribal music” — thunderous percussion that evokes a time when one of the purposes of the music was to scare the heck out of invading English armies. True to form, Clann an Drumma look like they strode straight out of the 15th century Scottish Highlands.

For a more contemporary take on Highlands music, there’s Mothergrove performing their own version of Celtic rock. “They’re upbeat and a lot of fun,” Phillips says. “They crank it up. It’s a rock band with bag pipes, and if you’ve never heard that, it’s just a really neat sound.”

And for those of you who like your traditional Scottish music more… well, traditional, Highland Laura offers a time-honored take on classic Scottish ballads.

This is only the start of what the Highland Games have to offer. There’s the Highland Games first rugby tournament, highland cows and Clydesdale horses, and a variety of one-of-a-kind vendors offering everything from Celtic jewelry to traditional dress to CDs, DVDs and books on all things Scottish.

Indian Highland Games
June 11, 2005
Concordia Theological Seminary
6600 N. Clinton
Fort Wayne, IN
9 am – 8 pm

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