Games with a swirl and heave

The annual Anne Arundel Scottish Festival attracts families and strong competitors

October 15, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

Tattooed on Eric Frasure's left arm is the motto of the Fraser clan, Je suis Prest -- which translates as "I am ready."

And he was ready yesterday, quickly turning polite applause into choruses of "oohs" and "ahs," each one louder and with greater astonishment, as he hurled a 56-pound weight farther than most people can toss a football.

The 21-year-old North Carolina resident was an obvious star yesterday at the annual Anne Arundel Scottish Festival and Highland Games.

But he wasn't the only one. There was John Dodds, who for 15 years has been the driving force behind the festival and who was greeted warmly by many in the crowd. And there were the scores of men, decked out in colorful plaid kilts, playing the bagpipes and drums.

But the real stars were the clans -- dozens of them, many with kiosks inviting the public to stop by for free Scottish cookies, a quick history lesson and casual conversation.

"It's like a family reunion," said John Watson, a gatekeeper at the entrance of the festival at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds. "Once a year, you get to meet the Scottish families that you don't get to see the rest of the year."

More than 4,000 people attended the festivities, which included a colorful opening ceremony, vendors selling a variety of Scottish foods and memorabilia, and competitions in fiddling, the pipes and drums, sheepdogs and more.

For more than an hour, though, the eyes of hundreds of spectators were fixed on Frasure, a student at East Carolina University.

He stands 6 feet 4 inches, weighs 275 pounds and has huge upper arms.

"That's nothing. I'm skinny," he said. "The important thing is the strength of this," he added, lifting his kilt and patting a thigh. "That's where you get the power."

And the crowd was awed by Frasure's power. He first set an unofficial U.S. record by tossing a 56-pound weight 49 feet, 6 1/2 inches -- less than two inches under the world record. And 20 minutes later he set another unofficial U.S. record by hurling a 28-pound weight 91 feet, 9 1/2 inches.

"He's insanely good," said Adam Guasch-Melendez, a competitor and an acknowledged authority on Highland competition. "He is one of the very best in the world, but in a couple of years, he will be the best."

Dodds, 68, said the festival is "an opportunity for the parents and kids to stay in touch with their heritage." Dodds was born and raised in Dundee, Scotland, and immigrated to the United States as a cabinetmaker when he was 20. He said he now works for Anne Arundel County government.

An elderly woman stopped the golf cart that was chauffeuring Dodds around the fairgrounds and said: "John, I'm sorry I couldn't help, but I'm in Florida now. But I want to thank you for continuing this. It's great."

As she walked away, Dodds was asked who the woman is.

"I don't know," he replied. "I meet so many people, I can't remember all their names."

But, he acknowledged, "It's just a nice thing that they remember me."

Watson, the gatekeeper, said there wouldn't be the festival if not for Dodds.

"John started this on basically nothing, and it just keeps growing," he said. "It gets better each year."

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