ATHENA — Listening to a piping recording inspired Eric Albert to learn about the music and bagpipes. He studied with renowned teachers, among them Jimmy McIntosh and Adasdair Gillies, and especially 84-year-old James McColl — a major piping influence. 

Now Eric competes across the country and is often on the list of prize winners at highland games. He has been pipe major for the Eugene Highlanders Pipe Band and is currently principal instructor for the Lane Fire Brigade Pipes and Drums of Eugene. 

Eric is known for his intuitive judging observations and encouragement. In this capacity, he will serve as featured piper and judge at Athena Caledonian Games, when it holds forth Friday through Sunday.

The games gather up clans, friends, families, athletes, highland dancers and pipers to celebrate a longtime tradition in Athena on the second full weekend of July. 

Traditionally, the gathering has occurred in Athena since 1899 with the formation of the Umatilla County Caledonian Society that set highland games into action with two pipers and a few dancers from Portland. It offered some throwing and baseball games, speakers and an evening ball that inaugural year.

Now Caledonian Games looks like highland games worldwide that celebrate all things Scottish and traditions with Highland dancing, piping and Scottish athletic competitions. 

National organizations sanction and govern the competitions to be universal, from weights and measurements to the dancers’ steps. While regulation is valuable to competition judges, participants have fun, too. Professional and amateur athletes compete next to one another and have a great time, said Sue Friese in a release. 

Skills that are based in Scottish history and farm life are now used in athletic competition. The most famous event is the caber toss where a telephone-like pole is thrown end over end, then measured for angle from the thrower’s position. 

In ancient farm life, one might have to place such a pole to cross over a stream. 

Many events have things flying in the air for height measurements: hammers, hay bales/sheaf toss and weight toss. Actually, the weight may vary because of the age division, skill level and/or for women’s competition — all standardized by Scottish American Athletic Association. Alan Wernsing of Athena is athletic director, a post he has held for around 30 years.

On hiatus for about six years, the Highland Dance Competition has returned to the event schedule, Friese said. 

Cassandra Humphrys of Richland is dance coordinator. 

Highland dances are lithe, historically-based and have complex footwork. Accuracy and regulation steps, costume and deportment in Scottish dance competition will be graded by Federation of United States Teachers and Adjudicators of Highland Dancing-approved judge Tricia Bacon of San Diego. 

Uniform steps in competition dances are FUSTA approved. The dances may be named for a famous person, a place or portray a story. Some contestants are from Athena, but the dance competition draws competitors and their families from Portland, Spokane and Boise and possibly from California this year. 

The piping competition is small but has its impact on Caledonian Games, Friese said. Judge Albert has come to the Athena event for several years and fills in as Piper of Need, whenever needed. He will be featured at the Tattoo/outdoor concert at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the high school stadium. 

He will perform some World War II piping tunes commemorating the 75th anniversary of D Day. He will play at the Caledonian Candle Lighting Ceremony, a blessing of clan and the festival, at the cairn in City Park at about 7 p.m. on Friday night. He will play “Flowers of the Forest,” a traditional piping tune played in honor of lost loved ones.

Before the Candle Lighting Ceremony in the Park on Friday night, Caledonian offers a ceilidh dinner. Some of the vendors will offer limited menus on Friday night. Dinners may be bought from vendors and taken to the Pavilion where Celtic fiddler Anna Burgess Mayberry of Walla Walla will perform from about 5:30-7 p.m. She was a favorite performer several years ago who has played in San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville and Indianapolis. 

At the culmination of the Candle Lighting Ceremony, Caledonian will sponsor a free movie at about 8:15 p.m. in the Athena City Library, featuring “Ring of Bright Waters,” a family story filmed in Scotland. 

“You don’t have to wear a kilt to Athena, but it sure is fun if you have one,” Friese noted. Bring the family, bring horseshoes if you throw. A singles tournament will be on Saturday and doubles on Sunday. Registration is at 1:30 p.m. both days.

Sunday’s feature will be Lynn Tompkins of Blue Mountain Wildlife and her birds coming to Athena by 12:30 after the Kirkin’ of the Tartan, a church service at the park at 9:30 a.m. Bring chairs. Caledonian will host a coffee hour after the church service.

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