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CARRYING ON THE HIGHLAND
By Mike Wills
For a thousand years they have battled. From the days
of the medieval Scottish kings, they have gathered to test their strength on
the field of honor. Competing in one of the world's most ancient sports,
they are at the same time world-class athletes…and links to the distant
past. They are respected as husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, farmers,
business people, soldiers, and world-class strength athletes. They have
trained thousands of hours and competed all along the East Coast to earn their
spot here today. But, by nightfall, only one can claim his place in
history as the 2008 East Coast Amateur Champion.
Only one. But, that is only half the story.
The fact is this: Nearly 80% of the families that call
the Appalachian Mountains their home can trace their heritage directly to Scotland and
Ireland. When tens of
thousands fled Scotland and Ireland during the 1700s - due to the Scottish
Highland Clearances after the final collapse of the Jacobite cause, and the
economic and religious pressures visited upon the Irish through the Ulster
Plantation process - nearly all followed a similar emigration path to the
colonies. First to the shores of Virginia, then westward, finally
settling in and spreading throughout the mountains that dominate present-day
western Virginia, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and northern
Why did they keep moving beyond the flat and fertile lands
along the coast? The British came to the shores of Virginia too, and they had claimed much of
the desired land. When they inevitably moved westward, the British could
not farm the mountainsides. They needed flat land! So, the
Highlanders found their new home in an area that seemed harsh and inhospitable to
most. The mountains reminded them of the home they had left behind, and
the Appalachians became the new Scotland
Time marched onward, and quickly we forgot.
The athletes, pipers, musicians, singers, genealogists, and
vendors gathering at Great Meadow are all living reminders. They remind
us of those who fought, died, persevered, and started over to secure our right
to live in freedom and dignity. More than that, they represent the link between common
struggles faced by both the ancient Highlanders and today's proud
Virginians. You see, the original Highland Games participants were
commoners, preparing themselves for battle when they had been stripped of their
weapons, but not their pride. They did not seek glory. Fighting without
protest, they found death a more palatable choice than forced servitude.
Now, it is time for us to remember.
This is who we are. We are the descendants of Scotland.
We are proud and free. And today we celebrate our heritage…many for the
first time. So on this day in history, the greatest amateur Highland
Games athletes from around the country - each and every one a champion already
– will descend upon Great Meadow. The prize is a place in the
thousand-year lineage of warrior champions. You are invited to be a part of this opportunity to
celebrate the rich Scots-Irish heritage of Virginia and the Appalachians,
experience championship competition at a global level and enveloped in a
Millennium of cultural heritage, and learn about your ancestry while enjoying
traditional Scottish hospitality at its finest.
Neart agus urram. Strength and honor.
Braemar Stone Toss is named for the ancient festival held in Braemar, Scotland, that requires
that a heavy stone be put from a standing position, creating a test that relies
as much on strength as technique. The
Braemar stone, weighing between 22 and 28 pounds, is thrown from a stand.
The athlete cannot use a run-up approach or spin; instead, both feet must
remain stationary until the stone is released. The athlete must not go
past the wooden trig (a toe board that marks the backline and frontline) or
touch the ground with any part of his body other than his feet.
Open Stone Toss
The "clachneart," or stone toss, is one of the world's most ancient tests of
strength. The challenge has always been simple: See who can throw a
sizeable creek stone the farthest. The Open Stone Toss developed into
today's track and field shot put event. The Open Stone Toss allows a run-up or spinning approach,
with the stone usually weighing between 16 and 18 pounds. The contestant
must keep at least one foot within the sidelines of the 4'6" wide and
7'6" deep throwing box at all times. The trig cannot be crossed at
any time during the throw.
Heavy Weight Toss
In Scotland, the traditional measure of weight is a
"stone," which equals 14 pounds. Block weights weighing two
stones (28 lbs.) and four stones (56 lbs.) were used to balance scales for
measuring grain. These weights were thrown by locals gathering around the
grain store to determine who was the strongest man in the village. The contestant must keep at least one foot within the
sidelines of the 4'6" wide and 9' deep throwing box at all times.
The backline and frontline - marked by the toe board called a "trig"
- cannot be crossed at any time during the throw.
Light Weight Toss
Drawing from the same roots as the Heavy Weight, the
two-stone Light Weight is 28 pounds and was originally used to measure out
grain. The modern track and field 35 lb. weight throw is derived from
Highland Games weight tosses. The contestant must keep at least one foot within the
sidelines of the 4'6" wide and 9' deep throwing box at all times.
The trig cannot be crossed at any time during the throw.
Heavy Hammer Throw
Throwing the massive rock quarryman's hammer is a test of
strength developed hundreds of years ago. Being even larger than the
blacksmith's hammer, the 22 lb. heavy hammer remains an event unique to the
Highland Games. The athletes will throw the hammer with their feet remaining
stationary, aided by metal spikes that are mounted to the bottoms of their
boots and jammed into the ground. The thrower must remain behind the
trig, avoid falling over and touching the ground, and keep both feet firmly
planted until the hammer has been released.
The caber toss draws upon the distant past to establish this
test of strength and skill as the king of Highland Games Heavy Events.
Caber is Gaelic for tree, and lumberjacks are believed to provide the origin by
turning small trees end-over-end to cross small rivers. Soon, attacking
warriors started landing 20' tree trunks against castle walls during siege,
using them as crude ladders. The Caber Toss is the only event that isn't measured for
height or distance. Instead, judges score the event in a subjective
manner. A perfect score occurs when an athlete is able to turn the caber
end-over-end, with the caber landing in line with the athlete's direction of
momentum, resulting in a 12:00 score on an imaginary clock face. If the
caber turns, but does not land straight in front of the athlete, scores between
9:00 and 3:00 are assigned. If the caber does not turn, the side judge
awards a degree score up to 90°. Due to its subjective nature, and the fact that almost every
competition provides a different caber, there are no records, only bragging
The sheaf toss originates from one of the most practical and
common farm chores: Throwing sheaves of hay up into the barn loft.
Traditionally contested at county agricultural fairs, the sheaf toss has made
its way into the Highland Games over the last 100 years, becoming a fan favorite
along the way. Using a traditional 3-tyne hay fork, the athlete attempts to
throw a burlap bag stuffed with materials such as straw or bailing twine over a
horizontal bar. Each athlete gets three attempts at each increasing
height until there is a winner, with misses being counted against them should
two or more athletes tie at a height.
Weight Over Bar
The standing Weight Over Bar, or weight for height as it is
often called, is a tried-and-true test of brute strength and explosiveness.
Originating from similar traditions as the weights tossed for distance, this is
a staple event that is also often contested in strongman contests. The rules are minimal, simply stand under a horizontal bar
and throw a 56 lb. weight over it with one hand. A running or spinning
approach is allowed at the discretion of the field judge. Each athlete
gets three attempts at each increasing height until there is a winner, with
misses being counted against them should two or more athletes tie at a height.
We would not be able to have our Wounded Warrior competion without the very generous support of the Knights of Columbus, Fr. Charles J. Watters Assumbly 2888, Warrenton, VA and the support of Ed Cook and their Wounded Warriors VSGA Committee
and former VSGA President William Jarrett
and the .
Colin West Memorial Award
Prior Year's Athletics Scores (courtesy of North American Scottish Games Athletics)
2007 Athletics Pictures
(courtesy of Mike Melia and Eclipsed by the Moon)
Virginia Scottish Games Field Records
2012 Professional Athletes
2013 Professional Athletes