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It’s official: Highland Games are coming to Langley

Break out the bagpipes. The Highland Games are coming to Langley.

Officials with the South Whidbey School District and organizers of the annual celebration of Celtic culture have inked a deal to bring the big event to the Langley Middle School property.

“It’s a done deal,” said Ann Christensen, president of the Whidbey Island Celtic Society.

“We’re delighted and looking forward to working with Mayor Samuelson and the city of Langley to make this a success for all of us,” she said.

Fred McCarthy, superintendent of South Whidbey schools, said the school district has signed off on a facility use agreement for the middle school property.

The Highland Games will be held on Aug. 14, and organizers of the games have gotten permission to begin setting up for the event on Aug. 12.

The games will have a familiar feel to the 2,000 or so expected to attend, Christensen said.

“It will be, of course, a different physical arrangement, but we’ll have all of the same events. They can look forward to the athletics, the dancing and the piping. Everything we normally have.”

Christensen said she would meet this week with officials from the Island County Fair, so a part of the adjacent property can be used for a beer garden.

A scheduling problem thwarted the return of the Highland Games to Greenbank Farm, where it has been held the past

11 years. A wedding was inadvertently scheduled to take place in the games’ usual slot on the second Saturday of August, and organizers of the games have spent the past several weeks searching for a new venue.

South Whidbey Community Park was briefly considered, but parks commissioners turned down the chance to host the games due to their “no alcohol” policy and the insistence of games’ organizers for a beer tent.

The use of the Langley Middle School property will carry some new restrictions, however.

The agreement approved by the school district includes an addendum that restricts the use of swords, weapons and other “combat paraphernalia.”

Christensen said that clans and pipers at the games will not be allowed to wear swords, dirks or sgian dubh (pronounced “skin doo”), the Scottish knife that is worn on the calf of the leg.

Organizers will ask participants to come without the items or “check them at the gate,” she said.

The addendum was needed because state law restricts weapons on school grounds, said Dan Poolman, business manager for the school district.

“We just don’t want them carrying what could be conceived as a weapon on school grounds,” Poolman said. “What we don’t want is people walking around carrying knives and swords on their bodies all day long.”

Christensen said the added rules won’t prevent demonstrations by historical re-enactors for the games, including the “Shire of Earnrokke,” who will demonstrate pre-17th century European arts and skills.

And vendors will still be allowed to sell swords and other replicas as long as the weapons are not left unattended and buyers pick them up on their way out.

The rent for the property will net the school district $800.

Christensen said the location for next year’s Highland Games has not been determined.

While organizers of the Highland Games may consider a return to Greenbank Farm, they are waiting to see how things play out this year in Langley.

“I think we have to see how everything goes this year,” she said. “We’ll be back next year, we’re not really sure where.”

Any locals who are interested in vendor (retail or food) opportunities at the games, or want to participate in the athletic events or volunteer, can e-mail organizers of the event at whidbeygames@yahoo.com.

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