While St. Patrick’s Day is reserved for the celebration of all things Irish, a few weeks earlier Scottish pride will be on display at the 53rd annual Phoenix Scottish Games, Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4.
“We are a family-oriented event that is geared toward the Scottish culture,” says Paul Bell, chairman of the Phoenix Scottish Games. “Our music, our food vendors, or merchandise vendors as well as the dance and athletic areas are all aimed to share the Scottish culture.”
Held at Phoenix’s Steele Indian School Park, the Scottish Games present an array of activities from athletic competitions to dance events, music and education.
“We are the largest of the four major Scottish events in Arizona,” Bell says. “We draw in participants in the athletic area, the pipes area and in the Scottish dance area from all over the country and Canada as well as from time to time have competitors come from Scotland and parts of Europe.”
Formerly known as the Arizona Scottish Gathering & Highland Games, the event is presented by the Caledonian Society of Arizona, a nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting Scottish culture through art, education and athletics. For more than 50 years, the games have brought together people “who share a common bond—Scottish heritage—and to expose others to our history and what part in that history the athletic events played,” he says.
The Scottish journey begins with a familial investigation in the genealogy tent. The next stop is the dance, where participants vie for top honors.
“We have a competition in the Scottish dance area that has received national recognition, and participants are being judged by some of the highest-rating judges in the Scottish dance world,” Bell says.
The food and beverage areas will feature beer like Kilt Lifter Scottish Style Ale, courtesy of Four Peaks Brewery, and dishes like traditional fish and chips.
“We also will have Scotch whisky available, and during the day there will be tasting done where you can learn about the various flavors and types of scotch,” he says.
Rock, folk and ethnic music will provide the soundtrack.
“Our entertainment brings in a mix of high-energy, Celtic-flavored rock to quiet acoustic music in a bit quieter setting,” Bell says. “This year we will have the Wicked Tinkers back. They are a crowd favorite who get rowdy and raucous. They will definitely get the crowd wound up with their high-energy brand of Celtic rock.”
Joining the Tinkers are local bands Traveler and Stoneybank, as well Canada’s Blackthorn.
“We have always looked to bring in favorite performers as well as groups who bring a new flavor,” Bell says.
There are also history-inspired sporting attractions.
“Our athletic competitions use simple implements that were available to the common citizen soldier when the King of England made it illegal for Scotts to carry swords,” Bell says. “Large poles, the caber, are tossed from a run and the object in competition is to flip it and keep it as straight as possible. Actually, all of the throwing events are scored on the same criteria, the stone and the hammer as well. There are also vertical competitions, the ‘weight over bar’ or WAB, where a weight, in lieu of a stone is tossed up and over a bar that is raised after each successful throw.”
Participants range in age, gender and experience in the five events and are divided accordingly to compete.
The festivities begin with Saturday’s opening ceremony, which Bell describes with enthusiasm and excitement.
“It is one of the great highlights of the event,” Bell says. “We will have the massed bands take the field along with all of our various Clan representatives to officially open the games. Everything at the event comes to a halt when the massed bands come to life and start their march from the lower field up the hill onto the main field.”
With more than 20,000 patrons expected to attend, Bell anticipates another successful Scottish Games.
“We hope their visit is fun and entertaining, as well as educational,” he says. “We hope they enjoy themselves and plan to mark their calendar for next year’s event.”
Phoenix Scottish Games, Steele Indian School Park 300 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, arizonascots.com, 9 a.m. Saturday, March 4, and Sunday, March 5, $20.