Springfield Area Highland Games

  • Masters World Championship 2014
  • Some of the younger dancers perform the fairy dance.
  • Onlookers watch as Chris Nickell performs the caber toss.
  • Mass bands gathered at the Chatham Highland Games.
  • Dancers perform the Highland Fling.
  • Bryan Jeffery, 16, mentally prepares for the caber toss. Bryan and his father, Adam Jeffery, both compete in the Highland Games.
  • Kendall Thomas performs the heavy weight for distance event.
  • The Saint Andrew’s Society of Central Illinois Pipes and Drums poses at a past event.

By Kyla Hurt
Photos/Submitted to The Source

Full day of fun and entertainment for all coming up

If you’re gaunnie, a bit of Scottish dialect for “going to,” the 33rd Springfield Area Highland Games, you can head to New Berlin on Saturday, May 15.

The St. Andrew’s Society of Central Illinois is presenting this year’s event at the Sangamon County Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds offer plenty of parking, accessibility and indoor areas – allowing the day to take place rain or shine

The May 15 Springfield Area Highland Games run from 8 a.m.-10 p.m., and while kilt-wearing and bagpipe-playing might be on the tip of your tongue when thinking of any Scottish things to spout, the event offers so much more. Think Scottish culture, athletic competitions featuring traditions dating back to the 11th century, whiskeys and Scotch whiskies upon which to sip, exciting foods to sample, plus performances of all types, to start.

St. Andrew’s Society of Central Illinois President Jim Crosier extends an invitation to all to come to the event. More information about the group and event can be found at www.centralillinoiscelts.com or on their equally named Facebook page under “Central Illinois Celts.” The day will feature many facets of Celtic culture. Specifically, the event offers Clan Row, a British Car Show, D’Arcy’s Pint VIP area, a heritage area, Celtic vendors, whiskey tasting, Irish Wolfhounds and Highland cows. Live performances by bagpipers, Skibereen, The Red Wheelbarrows, Broken Brogue, The Prairie Wind Flute Ensemble and Celtic Whistle are scheduled, as well as performances by traditional Scottish and Irish dancers. There’s also a children’s area, which will have activities and isn’t “just a babysitter.”

Crosier states, “We’re in the midst of rebuilding. We have [bag]pipers that will be there, but [COVID-19 has affected] commitments from [larger groups] like years past.”

As per dancers, “They’re all going to be performance. They’re not going to be competition,” explains Crosier. This is due to guidelines of ScotDance USA, who has halted all competition until June 1.

Of course, it’s hard to miss the Ancient Athletics Highland Games competition, which will run throughout the day. Chris Nickell had not only been competing for over 10 years, but he is also on the athletics committee. He laughs modestly about his current world record for the light hammer, but the games are not a joke. The highland games consist of nine events, testing one’s strength against others. The sheaf toss and caber toss are more commonly known events, though most of the events conjure up some fantastic imagery and are terrific crowd pleasers. Most everything centers around throwing and lifting. Nickell expects somewhere around 70 athletes to be competing this year, and because they start at 9 a.m. and won’t finish until almost 4 p.m., “anytime [attendees] come, they’ll be able to watch the athletics go on … the athletics are kind of a backdrop that they’ll be able to watch all day.”

Registration is still open online. Nickell also says, “There is a novice class for anyone who has never competed … if anyone wants to give it a try, they’re welcome to sign up.” Anyone ready to put on a brave face can sign up at ancientathletics.com.

“We draw from the five-state area to our event here because of the quality equipment and quality judging … Merl has done such a great job over the last 10 years,” says Nickell, adding, “Merl Lawless

essentially the keeper of all things that have to do with the athletic endeavors.”

Crosier jumps in, saying, “The games are really prominent, and there’s a lot more. We’ve got adult beverages – wine, whiskey and beer. Then, we’ve got nine clans committed, as well.”

Adds Nickell, “Clans are essentially a family tree of heritage. So, each clan will have their own pop-up canopy tent with all the information … so that they can help people kind of follow their family lineage, their tartans and their crests and their seals … all the things that come down from the Celtic family tree stuff. People really find that interesting.”

Of interest, St. Croix, a factory with huge looms that creates tartans, will be a vendor at the event for the first time since 2012. Crosier also says highlights will be the presence of Laphroaig, a Scottish whiskey; a Bonniest Knees Contest; and the Highland cows.

General admission is $8 for children (age 5-12) and seniors, or $15 for adults. VIP admission is $18 for children (age 5-12), or $35 for one adult and $60 for two adults. All Veteran and military guests are admitted for free with proof of military ID, as are children under the age of five. To purchase tickets and to find the schedule of events, visit centralillinoiscelts.com or visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/springfieldhighlandgames. “We will have tickets available at the gate, although we would prefer they be purchased in advance,” notes Springfield Area Highland Games Chairperson Stephanie McCann.

The Springfield Area Highland Games will comply with all COVID-19 regulations that are in place from the State of Illinois and Sangamon County on the day of the event, stating, “We are committed to the safety of all guests, volunteers, performers, and vendors.”

Crosier and Nickell both want to impress upon families and those wanting to compete or attend that the Sangamon County Fairgrounds is now the permanent home for the games. Thus, when you combine the facts that it is an outdoor event with the square footage of the fairgrounds, it is possible to meet guidelines of safe social distancing. Masks are of course welcomed if that is your comfort level, as well.

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