The past, present, and future for the Glasgow Highland Games
By Allyson Dix, Managing Editor / Barren County Progress
The office of the Glasgow Highland Games is set to sell at 11 a.m. to the highest bidder on Saturday and for many, it feels like the final nail in the coffin for the future of the games.
But perhaps that isn’t so and the old adage “when one door closes, another opens” is true. Those who desire the return of the games might find comfort knowing there are active members attempting to rekindle the fire for the Scottish games once again.
Included in the 613 E Main Street auction is more than just the office building itself but also three decades of historic Scottish game items and memorabilia. Bronze statues, kilts, heritage maps, prior game souvenirs, magazines, trophies, and more are set to find new owners on Saturday.
Vice President of the Glasgow Highland Games’ Board of Directors Bobby Lee Hurt said many factors have led to the sale of the property including a declining interest in keeping the games going.
“We just lost a lot of support and then when the Covid hit, we just didn’t have the finances to get everything back together,” Hurt said.
The home property was donated by Debbie Crabtree years ago and Hurt said the property needed a lot of work due to disrepair.
“It’s not worth fixing it up for us since the games are pretty much over,” Hurt said, “We couldn’t get enough financial support to restart it.” Several thousands of dollars were spent to transform the home into an office for the games.
Ernie Myers, who served on the Board of Directors and Executive Vice President for the Glasgow-Barren Chamber of Commerce, especially at the height of the games, said, “A lot of the funding dried up and after Covid forced us to cancel the games for a couple of years in a row, it just seemed the interest in starting the games back just left.”
Funding for the games came from a variety of places from individuals, state funds, commercial companies, businesses, the Glasgow-Barren County Tourist Commission, and other groups. Everyone in those early days was excited to be a part of the annual games. “It just became a life of its own,” Myers said, adding it eventually became a 501(c)(3).
The games began in the mid-80s and were part of the Glasgow-Barren Chamber of Commerce. Myers said several were instrumental in bringing the annual event to Glasgow and before its inception, those who took the lead in bringing the games to Glasgow traveled to Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina and ultimately modeled the local games from that event, one that still carries on today.
Myers said around 15 years ago, funding became more of a struggle as years passed but the community pushed through year after year on a “shoestring budget.”
“It’s really historical quite honestly,” Myers added, “Having the Highland Games for over thirty years and it revolved around how the Scottish families came to our community and incorporated the city.”
“The Glasgow Highland Games provided 34 years of celebration for our Scottish Heritage,” Glasgow Mayor Henry Royse said, “A whole generation of youngsters learned about Celtic culture through the many events hosted here.”
“It’s unfortunate the games did not continue due to a number of factors,” Royse added, “I would encourage all Glaswegians to attend the auction and pick up on a memory from a very special time in our history.”
Hurt said the monies from Saturday’s auction will go to some local charity-type organizations.
Thirty-four years of world-class competitions and fun brought people from all over the nation and some from other nations to the Barren River Lake State Park – a custom field was built for the competitions, music and laughter filled the air, children played and competed, students from the Glasgow Scottie Band performed in their Scottish attire. The Highland Games was a truly remarkable time for so many, one that was ultimately a celebration of Glasgow’s Scottish heritage.
“The games have just met its demise I’m afraid,” Myers shared, “It would be really nice if some folks were to take it over and have the games again.”
Myers’ hope may just come true.
Despite the dissolution of the original committee, efforts are currently underway to bring the games back to Glasgow.
The Glasgow Gaelic Gathering was held last weekend and the three-day event was filled with a series of interactive classes, workshops, and more that brought some of Glasgow’s Scottish heritage back locally.
Cherie Vaughan, owner of Main Street Bed & Breakfast, helped organize the Gaelic event and said it was partially a measure to see what kind of interest the public had in bringing the games back to Glasgow.
“I was contacted by many people associated with clans and families that miss the games and would love to see them return,” Vaughan said.
“We have already formed a committee and hope to combine forces with another group that has met to start the process.”
The recent event this past weekend was hosted at one of the downtown properties owned by Jeff Jobe.
Jobe said, “It was nice to see our Yancey Square building being used in this manner and I enjoyed watching the traditional dancing.”
Perhaps no other than renowned athlete and Barren County native Kerry “KO” Overfelt would be thrilled for the return of the Clans at Glasgow.
“Glasgow Highland Games was one of, and I can tell you this because I’ve been to a thousand games, the bigger games in the nation. It was a big deal with anywhere from twenty-to-thirty thousand people.”
Overfelt was the Athletic Director for the competing games on the main field of the Glasgow Highland Games up until the games came to a halt in 2019 due to the pandemic. He competed here for nearly 18 years.
Near the end, Overfelt made a proposal to the committee after learning the funding was tanking for the event. His proposal for a Masters National Championship was a great success with about 90 athletes over 40 years old, which ultimately turns into more attendees through families and volunteers that also come. Then came that pandemic that shut everything down.
He thought the games would reopen in 2022 and was disappointed with the continuance of cancellations.
Planning the Highland Games is a major undertaking and Overfelt said, “I think those people who started this game were older individuals and may not really want to mess with getting the grants and funding. I can understand that but at the same time, I had been going to this game since the mid-90s and it was a huge event for the whole area, not just Glasgow.”
Overfelt oversees the competitions at two other Highland Games in Hendersonville, Tn. and Eminence, Ky. but no other can replace Glasgow’s games for him.
“It was very dear to me because I did the Highland Games for 25 years,” Overfelt said, “That’s where I got my start, won the Pro Division there a couple times, that game did so much for my athletic career and so I really hated to see it go under.” He has traveled the nation and the world competing and that started right in the heart of Barren County.
Learning of the upcoming auction for the original office, Overfelt said he feels like it is some sort of closure because his memories there mean a lot to him.
Despite the state that the Glasgow Highland Games has found itself in over the past few years, perhaps the Clans can gather again very soon and Glasgow can continue the legendary event down by the lake where those bagpipes can be heard rolling through hills of Barren County once again.