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Clans band together at Dunedin games

The annual Dunedin Highland Games and Spring Clan Gathering returns home.

By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
Published March 30, 2007


DUNEDIN - There'll be a bonny breeze between the knees come Saturday.

It's the 41st annual Dunedin Highland Games and Spring Clan Gathering, the time of year when Highlander Park becomes a sea of kilt-wearing pipers, drummers, dancers and clansmen.

Aye, and big hulky guys with long wild hair that fling "telephone poles" and mammoth rocks in competition.

This year the event, which draws thousands, is back at Highlander Park. In 2006, the Dunedin Community Center was under construction so the games were held on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

Now, the grass is a wee bit greener at the site. Art Finn, the city's parks superintendent, said 2 acres of Bermuda grass were installed about six months ago.

"It's a special ballfield grass that is drought-tolerant, easy to mow, doesn't require a lot of water or fertilizer, and it's very comfortable for the feet."

Perfect for the Highland Games, he said.

"It can take the abuse of he-men dropping and throwing 100-pound objects."

More than 50 athletes will be hurling items as they did hundreds of years ago. One of the crowd favorites is the caber toss, where men and a few brave women attempt to flip a 15- to 22-foot long pole, often weighing up to 150 pounds, end over end.

They all hope to "pull a nooner." The object is to flip the poll to land in a vertical position, perpendicular to the ground.

"It's a perfect flip when it lands at 12 o'clock," said Barri Baucom, athletic chair.

Another popular event is the Scottish hammer. The athletes wear blades on their boots and dig them into the ground for support as they whirl the heavy hammer around and around, eventually releasing it over their shoulder.

"If they don't time it just right, they go into traction for awhile," Baucom said. "We even have a chiropractor standing by."

Pipe and drum bands and Scottish dancers will also compete for trophies, medals or money, depending on their age and category. And sheep-herding dogs will be back this year, after a one-year absence, to demonstrate their skills.

The event began in 1966 as a way to raise money for the city's pipe band and the Dunedin middle and high school bands, as well as to celebrate the city's Scottish heritage.

Last year the Dunedin Highland Games Committee raised over $30,000 for the three bands, said Sandy Keith, committee president.

He said one of the highlights this year is Seven Nations, a Celtic rock band. "They are the best in the country," he said.

Sam Marchand, honorary chief of the day, has three grown children who have all participated in the event in years past: one as a piper, one as a drummer and one as a dancer.

He plans to keep a watchful eye over the 42 clans slated to attend. He said he was told that it would be impossible to have such an occasion in Scotland.

"The clans would all be fighting each other," he said.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

 


The Highland Games at a glance

The 41st annual Dunedin Highland Games and Spring Clan Gathering is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Highlander Park, Michigan Boulevard and Pinehurst Road. Admission is $10; children 12 and under are admitted free.

Note: Free piping, drumming and dancing workshops will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Dunedin Community Center, 1141 Michigan Blvd.