Topeka Highland Games expands offerings, looks for more possibilities next year

By most standards, Darrin Plank is not a small guy. Six feet tall and 250 pounds, Plank said he’s on the smaller side when it comes to competing in The Highland Games.

 

“I wanted to bring something to Topeka that people would want to go to, something different. I’ve been competing pretty regularly for about five years, but I’ve been doing Highland Games for about 20,” Plank said. “I’m not the smallest guy, but a lot of our guys are 6 foot 5 inches, 350 pounds, or taller.”

The games are competitions of skill and strength. Based on a Scottish tradition that began in the 11th century, they were conducted as an attempt to find the swiftest and strongest messenger for the king. Now the games have taken a more entertaining turn, with contestants displaying their strengths in front of an audience for a grand prize.

“The first year we had about 40 competitors, and that always kinds of fluctuates a little here, a little there, just depends on weather and what we all have going on,” Plank said. “There’s usually a Highland Games going on somewhere, some weekend in the Midwest. So I picked the third weekend of August because I wasn’t competing with any other big games.”

For its fourth year, the games will begin at 10 a.m. on Aug. 19. They are held at Washburn Tech, because the grounds are donated for the day, but Plank said he has begun looking at alternatives to expand the event.

“We’re looking for sponsors and partners that kind of want to help grow it,” Plank said. “I fund this all out of my own pocket every year, but next year especially I’m looking for people to help me grow it bigger.”

Being on a college campus, alcohol is prohibited, which limits some of Plank’s options for food and other vendors. While he said he’s grateful to Washburn, he would like to make the games more accessible.

New this year is a children’s division. The games are already split by gender with varying weight classes, but this year Plank said they will be adding a stone toss, tug-of-war, and possibly a water sponge fight if the weather cooperates.

“Highland Games is a small enough community that everyone knows each other, even if we’re competing against each other we give each other tips and pointers on how to improve,” Plank said. “It’s not so competitive that I don’t want you to win — I mean, I want to win — but I want you to do your best too.”

The other facet to the historic games is the traditional dress. In this case: kilts. Plank said it’s important for contestants to wear the kilt, to keep up with the historical nature of the games, but he’s understanding of first timers who might not have one readily available.

“There’s a few extra kilts usually floating around, it’s one of those things where if it’s your first time, I don’t expect you to go out and buy a kilt; it’s something that you may or may not like,” he said.

When Plank isn’t working his day job at the Topeka Fire Department, he wears his kilt regularly.

“I’ll wear my kilt to the store, I’ll wear it on the bike — I wear my kilt more than I do my shorts, just because it’s comfy,” Plank said.

The games are divided into multiple events: open stone, brarmar, weight for distance, weight over bar, sheaf toss, heavy and light hammer throw, and caber toss. The events overlap throughout the day, so there’s always something to see.

Attendance is free, but there is registration fee if you’d like to participate. Contestants can register the day of the games or online. For information visit topekagames.com.

The Highland Games

What: A strength competition dating back to the 11th century

When: 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 19

Where: Washburn Tech, at the corner of S.W. Sena Drive and S.W. Chatham Place in Topeka

Price: Free to attend, $30 to compete

 

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