Senior drum major, Jim Thompson leads over 500 musicians of a three wave pipe band during the opening ceremony of the 40th Annual Stone Mountain Scottish Festival and Highland Games at Stone Mountain Park on Saturday.
STONE MOUNTAIN -- Pride, pageantry, music, dancing and athletic competition is the order of the weekend during the 40th annual Stone Mountain Scottish Festival and Highland Games.
The festival and games celebrate Scottish heritage, bringing some of the best of the highlands to the Atlanta area.
"We honestly had no idea that it would go 40 years when we started it in 1973," said Richard W. Swanson, one of the event's organizers. "We had about 500 people who attended the event back then and this weekend we're expecting well over 10,000 to be in attendance."
The weekend of festivities, which concludes today, includes athletic competitions, dance competitions, piping and drumming competitions, Scottish-themed food and other forms of entertainment.
One of the featured events was Saturday's opening ceremonies which included massed bands on the main field. With multiple bagpipes and drums, the games were officially opened with the music synonymous with Scotland.
"Our purpose is for the preservation of Scottish heritage and cultures," Swanson said. "There are a lot of Scots in the Atlanta area and this is a great time for everyone to come together and get back to their roots."
The athletics portion of the competition featured seven events, including crowd favorites the sheaf toss and caber toss.
In the sheaf toss, competitors use a three-tined pitchfork to toss a burlap bag over a bar. Amateurs toss a 16-pound bag, while professionals toss a 20-pound bag.
"I actually enjoy the sheaf toss the most," said Tucker Turner, who was one of the amateurs competing. "I'm not sure why, either."
The caber toss is the most famous of Scottish athletics and dates back to the 16th century. In this event, distance has no bearing on the results. The object is to toss the 19-foot, 120-pound cylindrical pole end-over-end to where the end the athlete is holding falls away from him. The scoring is done in two ways. If the pole doesn't go over 90 degrees, it is scored by how many degrees it goes up. If the pole does go over 90 degrees, it is judged on where the pole lands in relation to the athlete. They move up in weight and length as the days goes on.
"If I knew the best strategy for the caber, then I'd do better," Turner said. "The key is to get the top moving at good speed and pull the bottom hard so the momentum of the pole carries it. It's all about balance, positioning and having the right mind. If one of those things is off, you won't flip it over."
Turner said he first became interested in the Highland Games two years ago when he went to an event that didn't involve athletics.
"I talked with someone there and they gave me some information on it, so I thought I'd give it a try," he said.
Piping and drumming contests, Scottish entertainers, food and various Scottish-themed booths also cover the grounds, so there's a little bit of something for everyone.
Swanson said one of the main reasons the event has been able to have continued success is that it's done on an all-volunteer basis.
"Nobody gets paid to plan or work this event," he said. "That's how you get to the 40th of any event."
When asked what the word highlands means to him, Swanson said the mountains and just a nice feeling.
"We're a strong-minded people that are friendly and always willing to help out," he said.