By Tyler Howard
“Let the games begin!” announced Chieftain Ed Bennett and Chieftess Janet Lightner as the cannons fired, to start the 2016 Scottish Highland Games at Hovander Park on Saturday, June 4.
The Scottish Highland Games is a two-day festival that has been held in Ferndale for the past 56 years. People from all over the Pacific Northwest travel to this event to watch the games, dance in their kilts, play their bagpipes, beat their drums, and drink scotch.
This year there were 22 clans that attended the games, as well as societies including Lodge Alba, MacGregor Scots Guard, Northwest Junior Pipe Band, Scottish American Military Society, Seattle Scottish Highland Games Association, and Tartan Day.
During the opening ceremony on Saturday, the President of the Bellingham Highland Games Association, Jered Winchester, gave his welcome speech to the entire event on “The Great Field.”
Winchester acknowledged the passing of Noma Winchester. She had been the Highland Game’s Matriarch for several decades. It was her wish that at the start of the games one year, they would play the song, “Amazing Grace,” with the pipe and drum band. Winchester made this dream a reality. As the Scottish Bellingham Pipe Band played the melody, doves were released into the wind, in honor of her memory. Winchester paid homage to the people involved in creating this year’s games as well.
“This is a huge event,” said Winchester, “that takes a lot of manpower. I have to thank all of the volunteers as well as the competitors with their extraordinary skill they present every year.”
When Winchester introduced this year’s Chieftain and Chieftess, he presented Bennett and Lightner with a plaque to acknowledge their role and pay tribute to their contributions. Dance competitions are one of the main events that is held every year at the games. A panel of judges and officials scored several groups of different styles of Scottish dancing. Dancers are judged for their technique, performance, and aesthetic. Even the costumes they wear have to be under certain specifications.
Along with the dancing, music in general is another large portion of the games. Judges score pipe and drum bands from all over Washington State as well as parts of Canada.
The Heavy Athletics Competition might be the most popular at the games. The athletic events in this part of the competition include the throwing of the weights, putting the stone, hammer throwing, sheaf, and the caber toss.
The throwing of the weights involves an 18-inch chain with a weighted ball that contestants must throw with one hand. The standard weight divisions include 14 and 18 pound for women and 28 and 56 pound for men. There are also Masters standards for men and women over 40-years-old. Their standards are 28 and 40 pounds for men and 14 and 21 for women. Putting the stone is from an ancient clan ritual where a chieftain’s stone was placed at the entrance to a castle. Before any clansman was allowed to enter the castle they would have to prove their strength by throwing the stone for a distance. The stone throw at these games is similar to the Braemar style where a stone weighing from 20 to 27 pounds is thrown from a stationary position.
Hammer throwing involves swinging a 50-inch staff with a weighted ball on the end around their head several times and released straight behind the thrower. Men’s lightweight is at 16 pounds with heavy weight as 22 pounds. Women’s lightweight throws 12 pounds with heavy weight at 16 pounds.
Sheaf is where competitors use a modified pitch fork to throw a burlap sack over a raised bar. They have 3 attempts to make it over the bar before it is raised higher on the ladder. Women throw a 10-pound bag and men throw either 16 or 20 pounds.
The caber toss is probably the most well-known athletic event at the games. Athletes must pick up a 17 to 20-foot-long caber weighing from 70 to 100 pounds. The size and shape is similar to that of a telephone pole. Athletes must run forward and heave the caber up end over end so that it lands dead straight from their position. They are judged primarily on the accuracy of the throw rather than the distance.
Besides the competitions at the games, there was a variety of other events and vendors for people to enjoy.
The beer garden was particularly popular for people age 21 and over. People would come and sit down in the shade, smoke from their pipes, and converse about the games over a few rounds of ale. There was a large variety of ales, wines, and scotch from several venues including Boundary Bay Brewery, Honey Moon Mead, Vartanyan Estate Winery, Glacial Lake Missoula Wine Company, Dynasty Cellars, and Mount Baker Vineyards.
For those not of age to drink, there was also a Junior Athletics competition for grades 6-8. Their events were those similar to the adult athletic events. There was also Kids Games for children ages 5 through fifth grade. They could compete in some of the traditional Scottish Athletics as well as sack races, tug of war, and water balloon toss.
Besides the constant playing of the pipes and drums throughout the park, there was also stages with bands playing live music. The bands, “Wicked Tinkers” and “Maggie’s Fury” were alternating by the hour playing on the Celtic Music Stage from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday.
There were several other events during the games for people to enjoy such as medieval weapons demonstrations, worship services, and a freedom memorial service at the Vietnam Memorial at the park.
As the event comes to an end on Sunday night, they fire their final cannon salute to conclude the ending of the games. Until next year when they can fire them once more, for the next Scottish Highland Games