Highland Games: bring a bit of Scotland to Homer

OK, first let’s get the obvious question out of the way. What do men — and women — wear under their kilts at the Kachemak Bay Scottish Highland Games? If you were one of about 450 people who watched the 30 athletes compete at Karen Hornaday Park last Saturday, the way those kilts swirled about as athletes threw big stones and tossed huge logs, you know the answer.

Underwear, of course. The serious athletes, the big men and women who have competed in Homer and Anchorage Highland games before, wore clingy stretch briefs. It was not a time to go commando.

For the third year, the Highland games challenged athletes in events rooted in Scottish tradition. And, for the third year, despite an awesome stretch of sunshine in June, Homer had Scottish weather, with overcast skies and a wee bit of rain. It wasn’t enough to obscure the Kenai Mountains across Kachemak Bay. Highland games from Florida to New Hampshire might have more spectators and athletes, but few can compete with the scenery.

The Highland games might be compared to the Olympic pentathalon, where athletes compete in a variety of events, with one key difference: in ancient Greece, Olympians didn’t hurl 65-pound, 16-foot logs. That would be the caber toss, one of the tougher events. In the caber toss, athletes pick up the thinner end of a peeled spruce log and try to flip it end over end. A judge helps raise the log, but the athlete is on his own from there.

The tricky part is “picking” the log, where the athlete moves his hands to the bottom and then slips them under the thinner butt of the log. Balancing the caber, the athlete then moves in a line, picking up momentum, and with a grunt shoves the caber up, hoping it flips over. A perfect score is a 12, as in a clock face, judged relative from where the caber lands to the line the athlete walks. 

Scoring was done by visiting Scottish American Athletic Association judges, Ron Campbell, Eric Ettesvold and Tom Janzen.

Some events like the open stone and weight-for-distance and weight-for-height involve throwing heavy objects far. Other events mimic tasks done on a Scottish farm, like the sheaf toss — hurling a bag of hay with a pitchfork. The Highland games came about when Scottish farmers challenged each other in events that tested skills and strength from daily life. Some, like the weight and hammer toss, also might have their origins in military skills like throwing a mace.

All that weight and log throwing impressed Renee Krause, one of the organizers of the Homer Highland games, when she first saw Highland games growing up in Seminole, Fla. Krause, who can trace Scottish ancestry through the Stewarts on her father’s side and the Campbells on her mother’s side, remembered seeing the games at Treasure Island.

“It was really interesting and fun,” she said. “That’s where I thought, ‘These guys are huge, tossing trees and rocks and stuff like that.’”

It’s that childhood memory that motivated Krause to reinvigorate the Highland games in Homer.

“I went with my parents and they were really involved in it, and I missed it,” she said.

Robert Archibald and Dave Brann had run games in 2003 and 2004, but they went dormant until 2011 when they, Shelly Fraley, Hal Shepherd and Krause brought the games back. 

Organized by the Kachemak Bay Celtic Club, the Highland games also celebrate Scottish culture. The Crow Creek Pipes and Drums performed at the opening and end of the games. Kilts were required to compete in the games and the Kilted Mile, a short foot race, but many spectators wore kilts and the tartan as well.

One group of athletes showed their innovation in making kilts. A crew of trail workers working this summer at Kachemak Bay State Park improvised kilts from worn-out protective chaps worn when using chainsaws.

Homer added two events not seen at other Highland games: the halibut toss and the golf bag toss. In the halibut toss, athletes hurled a fabric halibut made by NOMAR and in the golf bag toss they threw an empty bag, something a frustrated golfer might do in Alaska.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.


2013 Kachemak Bay Scottish Highland Games


Master class

1) Brett McDonald

2) Jason McDonald

3) Hal Shepherd

Women’s class

1) Sylvia Whipple

2) Breanna Love

3)(tie) Kim McDonald,

3)(tie) Michelle Melchert

4) Jenny McLaughlin

5) Katie Joe

Men’s Open

1) Jody Potosky

2) Sean Fabanich

3) Jimmy Johnson

4) Justin Gobbi

5) Jason Kepler

6) Jake Fraley

7) Charles Knefelkamp 

8) Dan Gregory 


1) Dan Miotke

2) Ivan Wolfe

3) Josh Fraley

-) Adam Bradley*

-) Andrew Elder*

-) Cody Krause*

-) Kristo Hammond*

-) Bobby Hickman*

-) Ian McCormick*

-) Joe Miller*

-) Joe Sallee*

-) Steve Smith*

-) Robbie Young*

*Final scores not calculated at press time

Golf bag toss, women:

1) Michelle Melchert 46’ 9.5”

2) Jenny McClaughlin, 45’ 5”

3) Breanna Love, 42’ 9.5”

Golf bag toss, men:

1) Sean Fabinich, 74’ 8.5”

2) Jimmy Johnson, 62’ 7”

3) Jason McDonald, 61’ 8.5”

Halibut toss, women

1) Breanna Love, 28’ 2”

2) Sylvia Whipple, 25’ 1”

3) Jenny McLaughlin, 24’ 6.75”

Halibut toss, men

1) Jody Potosky, 47’

2) Sean Fabinich, 46’ 3”

3) Jimmy Johnson, 43’ 9”

Kilted Mile

1) Elias Graham

2) Zack Fraley

3) Hal Shepherd

New records:

Adam Bradley, Braemar stone, 25’ 4”

Jody Potosky, heavy hammer, 84’ 9”

Jody Potosky, light hammer, 104’ 6”