Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times Bagpipers play in the opening ceremonies of the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Music Festival on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.
Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times Bagpipers play in the opening ceremonies of the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Music Festival on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. (Augusta Liddic)
AZTEC — Bagpipe music fills the air as men in kilts walk past, circling the field where athletes compete in events such as the Scottish Hammer Throw and the Sheaf Toss.

The bagpipe players march past a small stage where girls in brightly colored vests and matching kilts prepare to take the stage to dance the Highland dances of Scotland.

The second annual Aztec Highland Games and Celtic festival began a 9 a.m. Saturday. The festival will continue today. Tickets are available at the gate for $17.

The highland games tradition began in the Scottish Highlands as a contest of strength and skill. The Aztec Highland Games continues in the tradition, featuring eight athletic events. All athletes are required to wear a kilt.

Christina Lemons has attended and competed in both Aztec Highland Games. She lifts a chain with a ball attached to the end. For a moment, she spins before tossing the ball. This event is known as Weight for Height. The goal is to throw the weight over an adjustable cross ball.

Lemons said she got into highland sports when she and her father attended a Celtic festival in Albuquerque. She found out where the practices were held and, once a week, donned a kilt to practice highland sports.

On the other side of the field, Johnnie Stone stabbs a burlap bag filled with straw with a pitchfork. He then uses the pitchfork to hurl the bag into the air. His goal in this event, called the Sheaf Toss, is to get the bag over a 28-foot-high horizontal bar.

The first few throws, Stone comes up short. Then he tries one last time. The bag flies through the air and over the bar. His audience cheers.

Outside of the athletic events, Nakayla Fair, 13, takes the stage. She wears a dark green vest over a white shirt. Red laces keep the vest tied shut. Her hair is done in a neat bun.

She leaps into the air, tucking one foot behind the other. Fair is a member of Maschino School of Highland Dance.

The school was founded in Arizona by Kari Maschino, whose grandmother emigrated from Scotland as a child due to the war.

Maschino said Scotland sends out new dances every year. The Aztec Highland Games provides a chance for her students to practice these dances in front of an audience. One of these dancers, 9-year-old Emily Avenetti, performed a complicated dance around two crossed swords. The crucial part of the dance was not to step on the swords or to knock them out of position.

In addition to Maschino School of Highland Dance, Belisama Irish Dance Company, which is based out of Santa Fe and Los Alamos, performed.

The games also provide artists with an opportunity to sell their work. Brenda Wanket of Leaning Pine Ranch uses fur from English Angora rabbits and Scottish Highland cattle to make bags, hats and other knitted items.

She said she waits until the animals are shedding, and then gathers the fur by brushing the cows or pulling clumps from the rabbits. She then uses a spinning wheel to spin the fur before she knits.

Wanket also uses the cattle for food. She said the meat is healthier than other beef and has a unique flavor. She said many people who have eaten Scottish Highland beef have a hard time eating Angus because they say it tastes plain.

Other booths at the highland games provided educational opportunities. Eleanor Kelly brought a pair of horses to teach about Highland-type breeds, such as the Irish Draught Horse and the Gypsy Vanner. She said the Irish Draught Horse was bred by farmers who could only have one horse and needed a horse that could work six days a week, pull a cart to church on Sundays and still have energy to go hunting. The Gypsy Vanner horse drew attention because of its mustache and its gentle nature.