Central Florida Scottish Highland Games to hit Winter Springs Saturday, Sunday
From the sound of bagpipes to the sight of medieval sword fights, Scottish traditions will be celebrated for a 38th consecutive year here in Central Florida.
The annual Central Florida Scottish Highland Games is held on the third weekend of January — where kilts, dancing and music are encouraged in the name of Scottish entertainment — in Central Winds Park in Winter Springs.
On Saturday and Sunday, attendees can expect to experience everything Scottish, including Scottish food, music and archery competitions.
"The Scottish Highland Games today are an extension of historic Scotland and athletic training from hundreds of years ago," said Chip Crawford, president of the Scottish American Society of Central Florida, which was founded in 1976 to celebrate and carry on the Scottish traditions in the U.S.
The Highland Games in Scotland date back 700 years to the Battle of Bannockburn, and they have been carried on ever since.
For the last couple years, Crawford said the two-day event in Central Florida has been averaging about 25,000 people.
The games will consist of various competitions, one of which includes athletes who compete to see how far and high they can throw heavy weights. There will also be a competition called boulder boogie, where people compete to see who can walk the farthest while holding a giant rock.
Dancers will be competing for prizes, tents will be set up for people to look up their names in history and there will even be a medieval camp where fully armored knights will compete against each other with real swords and shields.
Long-haired Highland cows will be roaming the area while approximately 15 bagpipe bands fill the air with mystical sounds.
The games in Central Florida set themselves apart by bringing in a special princess from Scotland.
After winning a Merida look-alike contest, the Scottish character from the Disney movie "Brave," a lucky girl has been invited to fly over to Central Florida for the past three years to entertain the kids at the games.
The wizarding sport Quidditch, commonly known from the Harry Potter series, has also made its way to the field of the Highland Games.
Last year, UCF's Quidditch team, which referred to themselves as the Nearly-Headless Knights, played against two other teams at the Scottish Highland Games.
Not only do UCF students make an appearance on the field, but they also show their contribution through volunteering. The UCF women's rugby club volunteers to sell tickets for the event, and this is one of the reasons why Crawford says the university is very important to him and the games.
As UCF students have participated in the past through Quidditch and volunteering, there are students who plan on attending the event this year for the first time.
Heather Abbot, a junior psychology major, recently went to a Scottish pub and was informed about the Highland Games.
"I'm not very sure what to expect, although I feel like there will be a lot of fun games and dancing, with the occasional drinking," Abbot said. "I feel that it will be a really interesting cultural event."
While some students will be new to the Scottish experience, students such as Kira Abelow, a freshman information technology major, have attended the event in the past.
Abelow attended the games a few years ago and has tried to go every year since.
"The diversity of activities and the ability to be immersed in the different and interesting Scottish culture is what really attracts people to the games," she said. "It's a rare opportunity to learn about a different culture by doing, seeing and interacting with others."
The Scottish Highland Games began in the United States more than 160 years ago in Detroit, Michigan.
Now, Highland Games are happening all around the country, each put on by participating local groups.
Crawford, who has been the president for 10 consecutive years, first showed interest in the Highland Games in 1994 when his curiosity took the reins.
"It's the need to know what has happened before you, where your genes came from and why you think and feel certain things," he said. "We have a lot of fun helping people discover the past and how it applies to their present and future."
The Scottish American Society of Central Florida only has this one event that it focuses on all year, and Crawford said it is designed for nothing but fun.
"From my personal experience, it can change your life," he said. "Once you go to one of these events, if you've got Scottish roots or not, it makes you want to dig deep and find out what history is all about."
Rachel Stuart is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.