Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie



October 13, 2017

Cory Black competes in the throwing event, weight over bar

Saturday, Oct. 7, was a perfect golden autumn day in Aztec. Riverside Park was the sight of the 6th annual Celtic Highland Games and the park looked lovely with the sun sparkling on the Animas with the cottonwoods just turning. Soulful bagpipes and drum mixed with lilting fiddle and flute lent a middle-earth quality to the gathering. And then of course there are strapping men and women in kilts running around flinging heavy objects. Frodo meets Braveheart. Combine all this with beer and burgers and a good time is had by all!

Aztec resident artist Jessica Polatty, together with archeologist John Cater and pal Therese Yannan spearheaded bringing the Celtic games to Aztec in 2011. "One night we were sitting around the kitchen drinking Jameson and John said, 'You know we should really bring a Celtic Festival to Aztec.' I thought Riverside Park would be perfect and well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!" Polatty said she had heard that Durango was thinking about bringing the event there, "So we really jumped on it and made it happen in Aztec."

Polatty said puttting on the shin-ding has always been a group effort by a bunch of dedicated folks, "This is definitely not a singular effort, everybody is in charge of some element of the event. It's a lot of hard work." Organized chaos may aptly describe putting together this party. Polatty credits the many volunteers for all their invaluable assistance over the years, "We always need more volunteers ... we couldn't do it without them." According to Polatty this years' game saw between 1000 and 1500 spectators which is an increase from last year. The money received from the gate and the athletes registration goes to cover the many expenses involved in putting on the festival, including paying the many musicians. This years festival included over 10 different Celtic musical groups and numerous dance groups.

The Celtic Highland Games originated in the middle ages in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Competitors tested their skill, strength and endurance using what they worked with everyday i.e. stones, bales of hay, hammers and really huge logs. The games have evolved into a more stylized version of the original but still maintain their authentic flavor. Read on to find out the answer to the obvious burning question of the day; what do they wear underneath those kilts?

Therese Yannan is the athletic coordinator for the games and she shared this years results with the TALON via e-mail; Overall there were 67 athletes including 21 women and 46 men, which is a slightly higher number then last year. Numbers of children competing was not available. Yannon contends there has been a steady increase in athletes every year. About 15 athletes were from the Four Corners area, and others traveled from Denver, Phoenix and Albuquerque. According to Yannon, the NM Celtic Athletic Association has been a huge source of support for the Aztec games since its inception. The athletes compete in eight events and the winner is decided by their final score. David Schafer won the Men's Light Class, and perhaps more importantly, the 'Bonny Knee' contest. Winners receive one-of-a kind trophies created by Feat of Clay potter, Jessica Polatty. Yannan said the man/woman the athletes "LOVE" the trophies and always have only positive things to say about the venue and the community of Aztec.

Every year the games attracts competitors, venders and visitors from all around are area and beyond, giving Aztec an economic boost.

Amanda Jaramillo is a front desk clerk at Aztec's Step Back Inn. "We were totally full this weekend," she said. The hotel has 40 rooms all named for local families from the town's history. "It was a great turn-out. We would love to have the Highland people come back next year."

Theresa Bailey is the general manager of the Microtel Inn and Suites by Windham on Hwy 550 south of town. Bailey is also president of the Aztec Chamber of Commerce. According to Bailey the hotel which has 70 units was full to capacity for the entire weekend. "It is absolutely fantastic that the games are an annual event here in Aztec. Everybody in town benefits from the event, not just the hotels, but the restaurants, the gas stations, Safeway ... it's just good for everybody." Bailey said the important thing is to keep the games alive, and that people come and stay in Aztec. Bailey stressed the importance of volunteerism if the games are to thrive, "We always need more volunteers."

According to Linda Harris owner of the Aztec Restaurant, "It was a good busy weekend. We had a lot of people come in, a lot of new faces." Harris added, "Aztec traditionally turns out for events like that...Aztec loves to party!" Harris said that while she appreciates the business the event brings in, she was not prepared to sponsor the event in the future. "I always support the local schools you know, that's what I do every year, that's my thing." As a small business owner Harris says she can't possibly sponsor every event or donate to every non-profit that solicits her. "As much as I'd like to help, it's just not possible."

Robert Paschall, owner of Beer Belly's shared similar sentiments when it comes to sponsoring the games. "As a small business owner you really have to pick and choose who to give to ... if I sold a burger for every non-profit that hits me up, hell, I'd be rich!" Paschall said, "The thing is, they come in with their hand out and then you never see them again till next year! At some point I'd like to be in the position to be a vendor but I'm just not set up for that right now."

Bagpipers at the Highland Games

Aztec Ruins attracted its share of Highlanders over the weekend. A park service ruins employee who wished to remain anonymous said, "I would have worn my kilt but unfortunatly it's not part of park service dress code. They'd probably frown on that." The ranger continued, "We had a very busy week-end and there were some kilted visitors but I know some of un-kilted ones were probably from the games. I support the games whole-heartedly, I wish more people would, it's a uniquely Aztec event."

According to the park service source, "What do they wear under the kilt? Absolutely nothing of course!"

There has been speculation that the Aztec highland games may be changing leadership or even leaving town but fear not ladies and lasses Jessica Polatty is not yet ready to pass the baton, "The Aztec Highland Games are definitly in Aztec in 2018. The games are not going anywhere!"

Anyone interested in getting involved call Jessica at (505) 419-7526 or e-mail her at [email protected]

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