THE BILL MEHRTENS MEMORIAL HIGHLAND GAMES
The Highland Games will take place at the Celtic Fair at Walker's Bluff. Competitions will run from 12:00pm to 5:00pm each day, Saturday and Sunday, October 1-2, 2016.
Ancient Athletics is a unit of the St. Andrew Society of Central Illinois. Over the past decade, central Illinois has become nationally recognized for its Highland Games and is also home to several world class Highland games athletes. Local amateur athletes include world record holder Kevin Rogers, and Oregon State Masters Champion Merl Lawless, both of Springfield. Merl will be returning to Carbondale this year along with several other athletes to compete in traditional and colorful Scottish and Irish kilts, adding to the spectacle of the event.
The competition will consist of two equal groups. Matched individuals will throw against each other and the winner of each event will earn a ribbon to be placed on their clan Flag. There could be up to 36 individual battles on the field, with the rest of the athletes cheering for their own clansman to prevail. After a warmup in the morning, the competition should take all day to complete, ending in the caber competition and an award ceremony. The traditional Scottish Caber Turn involves athletes attempting to turn end over end a 17-24 foot tall pole which weighs between 80 and 150 pounds.
The Highland Games at the Southern Illinois Irish Festival are named in honor of former Festival Board member and athletics coordinator Bill Mehrtens.
Merl Lawless' favorite event, the sheaf toss is a bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9 kg) for the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the Weight Over The Bar. There is significant debate among athletes as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an authentic Highland event. Some argue it is actually a country fair event, but all agree that it is a great crowd pleaser.
At the end of the day, the clan with the most ribbons wins the overall. (Hint: The Scottish flag is the rather plain looking boring white and blue. The Irish flag is the bold multicolored green, white, and orange! Go Irish!)