Highland Games director steps down, announces successor

Category:  News
Wednesday, October 6th, 2021 at 9:01 AM
Highland Games director steps down, announces successor  by Jenna Tupitza
File photo

Edinboro University hosted their 28th annual Highland Games festival from Friday, Sept. 10 to Sunday, Sept. 12. Many events from past festivals returned, including whisky tasting, heavy athletic competitions, tug of war and so much more. This year, the games concluded with a special announcement: Dr. Timothy Thompson, professor of Communication, Journalism and Media at Edinboro University and founder of the Highland Games, is stepping down from his position as Director of the Highland Games. 

Current Director 

When it comes to the university’s annual Highland Games, Thompson’s name comes to mind. He prides himself for being known for “addressing the haggis” where he reads a poem by Robert Burns to the meat. After almost three decades, Thompson has decided to step down from his title of ‘director.’ 

During the whisky tasting on Friday night at 5:30 p.m., Thompson revealed who will be taking over his position as the director of the Highland Games. 

“I was looking for someone for five years,” Thompson stated. In 2010, he received an offer from Amy Niel, Assistant Vice President for Communications and Marketing at Edinboro, and Kim Fabrizio, President’s Executive Assistant at Edinboro, to take over his position. However they both left the university when President Jeremy Brown left in 2011. When the planning for the 2012 games rolled around, Thompson was unaware that he was directing the games until he asked the provost who the director was going to be and the provost simply responded with, “you are.” Thompson then directed the games for that year and many after as he had never truly planned on giving up on the tradition. 

History of the Games 

During the summer of 1991, Thompson visited the Ohio Scottish Games a few months before finding himself working at Edinboro University. He mentioned his trip to the university president at the time, Diebold. 

“We should do that here,” he explained to the president. Thompson said he was inspired by the college mascot, The Fighting Scots. His idea was politely rejected, as it would have costed the school about $50,000, which the university could not afford at the time. 

In 1992, the students had Homecoming during the fall and nothing during the spring semester. Thompson then pitched the idea of a Scottish festival in the spring to his students; he received an overwhelmingly positive response. 

1993 was the first year of the Spring Highland Festival, where students would compete in competitions. Thompson mentions that two Erie pipe bands would play during the competitions to “to add Scottish flavor to it.” This festival did not turn out as Thompson had planned  weather became a major obstacle. 

The students built a 14-foot-tall float of the Loch Ness Monster to symbolize the Scottish folktale. Unfortunately, the wind blew the float – all 300 to 400 pounds of it – across the field. After a dramatic set up for the games, around 500 people attended the event, and there was only a single vender due to the small budget of $500. 

Later the festival was renamed the Edinboro Highland Games and Scottish Festival after the Scottish tradition of calling these kind of events “games.”  

Since then, Thompson said that the Highland Games have grown to become “central to our identity.” These games have become a tradition for some and “fun in the fall” for others.  

Yet, nothing lasts forever, and after 28 years of directing the Highland Games, Thompson has decided to step down and hand off the festival to the new director of his choosing: Global Education Office Manager Katie Spangenberg. 

New Director 

Thompson explained that he was talking to Jason Spangenberg, Finance Director and Interim Borough Manager for the Borough of Edinboro, one day about trying to find an individual to take over the Highland Games. In response, Mr. Spangenberg mentioned to Thompson that his wife would be interested. Katie Spangenberg has worked at Edinboro University for over five years as the Manager of Global Education, and attended the university as a student before her employment. 

Thompson mentioned that he still plans to assist with the Highland Games when Spangenberg becomes director. Thompson said, “I’m sure it will change and evolve under a new director but good things can happen from it.” 

Spangenberg explained that she would like to follow the pattern of the Highland Games that Thompson has developed over the years. She said, “Once I learn the ropes, I am sure there will be new ideas brewing.” 

 In her current position, she works with many international and study abroad students. She explained, “I think having any type of international event that teaches both the campus and surrounding community about other cultures is super important.” Another reason that the Highland Games are important to Spangenberg is that the university has a “deep-rooted” history in the Scottish culture, and she believes the campus staff and students should honor it. 

Spangenberg has also been attending the games for many years. She stated, “I grew up in Edinboro, so I actually attended the Highland Games before I was a student. I used to hate bagpipes when I was little, probably because they were so loud. Looking back now, I’m not sure why I did because I love hearing them around campus during the games now.” 

After the Highland games festivities are over and done with, Thompson enjoys attending the Ceilidh Dinner Party because “it is a tradition and I know the day is done, the craziness is over,” and now, after 28 years, the craziness that comes with being the lead director of the games is finally over. 

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