The Ohio Scottish Games

The Ohio Scottish Games are held at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington on the 4th Saturday every June. Established in 1977, this long standing event is presented by the members of the Scottish American Cultural Society of Ohio, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of their proud Scottish heritage and ancestry. The Ohio Scottish Games highlight the traditional dance, music and athletics of the ancient Highland Games. June 21-23. Recently Celtic Life International spoke with the festival’s president, Mike Mihalic.

What are your roles and responsibilities with the event?
Personally, I do a lot of delegating, coordinating, and double-checking to make sure that things are getting done when they need to in the year leading up to the Ohio Scottish Games.  And I am very involved in the set-up and tear-down that goes in to the event.  But overall, the Games really happen because the Games Committee members all take on a piece of the event and make sure they follow through to get everything lined up by the time the event rolls around.  So for example, the dance committee recruits the judges, organizes the dance competition, tracks down volunteers to help the day-of, and get the word out to try and get as many competitors as possible.  Similar things happen with those who organize the pipe band competition, fiddle and harp competitions etc.  So my role is really to fill in the gaps when people need assistance and make sure deadlines are being met etc.  And of course if the competitors and participants didn’t sign up, we wouldn’t have a Games to speak of.

What is the event’s core mandate?
To preserve and promote Scottish heritage and arts in Ohio.

Wow has it grown over the years?
Yes I was not involved in the early days of the games. But from the pictures I have seen and the people I talk to the games have evolved from just a few competitions to a full blown games covering all the arts. It also includes Entertainment ranging from balladeers to Celtic rock bands.

Who attends the gathering?
There is always a variety of people who attend the Games.  Many attendees have Scottish ancestry and want to further explore or celebrate their roots.  All ages attend, with some grandparents bringing their grandchildren to share in the experience.  Teens and young adults attend to see some the Celtic rock bands, athletes who are interested in strongman competitions come to witness the heavy athletics (like the caber toss and hammer throw), car and motorcycle enthusiasts of all ages come to see the British cars and motorcycles on display. Many participants are not Scottish at all, but may want to learn more about the Scottish Arts and traditions.  And some of the attendees are family members and friends who are there to support those competing in the dancing, fiddling, harping, bagpiping, or drumming competitions.

What can they expect to experience this year?
We have expanded our children’s events this year with bounce houses and in coordination with the release of the new Disney film we are having a prince and princess contest this year. We will also continue our children’s games where they get to test their skills on tossing a mini caber, animals (including Clydesdale horses, Highland Cattle, Border Collies, sheep, ducks, and a falcon).  Families will enjoy the clan village, especially if they want to research their own Scottish ancestry, as well as all of the music and dance competitions throughout the day.  No one should miss the massed bands which occur at opening and closing ceremonies.  Our headlining entertainers this year are Brother – a band that plays traditional Scottish music in addition to tribal and Celtic rock; Charlie Sham – our resident balladeer who sings traditional Scottish songs that incorporate Scottish history and stories; and a Celtic rock band by the name of Rathkeltair. And of course there will be Scottish food and Scottish drink for those who would like to partake!

Why is it an important event for the Celtic community there?
The goal of the Games is to bring awareness to the community and more widely, to the state, about Scottish arts and traditions.  Many of the proceeds from the Games go to support the Ohio Scottish Arts School, a week-long program for students of Highland dance, bagpiping, drumming, fiddling, and harping and Gaelic singing. Students attend from all over the USA and Canada, and the Arts School recruits world-renown teachers in the various disciplines from all over the world to come and participate. This gives the students the chance to work with experts and hone their skills even further.  It also gives the students a chance to meet others who share their interests and develop friendships, even if they do compete against each other at other times during the year.  There are very few programs like it in the country, so we work very hard to continue to make it a valuable experience for the students. Additionally, the Games has partnered with the Crieff Highland Gathering in Crieff, Scotland as a sister-games.  As part of this alliance, the Ohio Scottish Games is attended by delegates from Scotland every other year, while delegates and competitors from the Ohio Scottish Games attend the Crieff Highland Gathering in exchange.  This allows both events to learn and grow from each other, as well as giving competitors the opportunity to make friends from different countries and affording them a whole new opportunity to compete in or attend a Highland Games overseas.

Why is it an important event for the non-Celtic community there?
The non-Celtic community can attend and learn more about the traditions of Scotland. For people who like to learn about or experience a taste of other cultures, the Games are the perfect place to do that.  While many of the Games participants and competitors are Scottish in some way, some of them are not.  They just like to participate because a certain aspect interests them – whether it is the music, the dancing, or the atmosphere.  I know some families who are non-Celtic but have multiple family members that play bagpipes or compete in some type of Scottish Art, and even though they aren’t Scottish, it brings them closer as a family because they have to travel together frequently and support each other.  The Scottish Arts can also teach young people valuable skills about sportsmanship, tradition, and the value of hard work – and those are skills that will be carried with you whether you’re Celtic or not.

What are the plans for the event in the years ahead? 
Mostly, we’d just like the Games to continue to grow every year.  We’d love to see more and more people getting involved in the competitions every year and encourage families with Scottish heritage to continue to show their support.  We want to change it enough every year that we still have interesting things for people to see and do, bring in some new and different acts periodically, and incorporate some of the more contemporary music and dance while still maintaining our commitment to preserve the historic traditions of Scotland.

Is enough being done to preserve and promote Celtic culture?
We do our best to promote Scottish and Celtic heritage in Ohio through the Games, but we also try and put on or participate in events throughout the year.  While promoting the Games, the community can also get a taste of what the Games has to offer through shows, fundraisers, and Ceilidh’s that are supported by the Scottish American Cultural Society of Ohio (SACSO) or attended by SACSO members and members of the Games committee throughout the year.  Of course, we’d always love to do more, and would love to see the Games attendance and the participation in the Scottish Arts grow more every year, so we always feel we can do more than we are doing.

What can we be doing better?
It would be nice to see a more mainstream or widespread appreciation for the Scottish and Celtic culture.  For example, many people still don’t know there is a difference between Irish dancing and Scottish Highland dancing.  The more that people can get the word out about the Ohio Scottish Games, events like it, and the Celtic community in general the more people’s knowledge about the Scottish and Celtic cultures will increase.  We can always advertise more.  We hope to continue, and hopefully increase, our support of the Scottish Arts over time.  And we encourage people with Scottish heritage to share that with future generations.  We would love it if everyone could talk to their friends about their Celtic roots and maybe bring them to the Ohio Scottish Games with you!  Sometimes word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising.