Locals and sassenachs alike descended upon Homer last weekend for the Eighth Annual Kachemak Bay Scottish Highland Games, and the kilted competitors did not disappoint.
Those who know how fickle the weather in Homer can be might have worried about the chance the games could end up falling on a dreich day Saturday, but Mother Nature thankfully cooperated. In fact, it was quite the braw affair, held on a braw day.
Competitors hurled hammers and braemar stones across the bright green fields of Karen Hornaday Park while families and friends could be seen catching up, commenting on the games and otherwise tearin’ the tartan.
Athletes were judged and scored in nine events throughout the day, all with roots in the traditional games played by Scottish highlanders. Some, like the caber toss and the braemar stone throw, haven’t been updated much since they originated. It’s basically still about whether you can throw a small tree and a big rock, respectively.
Others, like the sheaf toss, have been abridged to meet today’s safety and other standards. In ye old times, or thereabout, competitors would literally see how high they could toss a sheaf of hay using a pitchfork. A useful skill, and one still employed by many a farmer in the Homer area.
However, Kachemak Bay Scottish Club President Robert Archibald said that event has been modified over the millennia to involve tossing a burlap sack filled with weights, instead.
Some may wonder what traditional Scottish highland games have at all to do with the Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea. That’s where the time honored, locally flavored “halibut toss” comes in.
Animal lovers need not worry — athletes aren’t throwing a real fish into the air. Imagine the smell by the end of a competition like Saturday’s, when the temperature rested firmly in the 70s. The “halibut” is hand made and filled with weights.
This year’s fake fish were made by NOMAR, Archibald said in a previous interview.
In the midst of such grueling sports, the competitors remained jovial, friendly and, above all, supportive of one another throughout the games.
Travis Ogden, a firefighter and emergency medical technician for Kachemak Emergency Services, competed in the masters division for men age 40 or older. He said another member of the department had gotten him into the games, and that he enjoys it so much that he continues on even though that coworker has ceased participating.
“Down in the states there’s people that travel the whole country just following the circuit of the games,” Ogden said. “It’s really fun to challenge yourself and try to get those personal bests, or personal records, they call them.”
This was Ogden’s third year participating in the games.
“I like the heavy weight over bar, and I usually like this one, heavy weight for distance,” he said while waiting for his next turn to launch a weight as far as he could throw it across the grass.
Ogden stood close in line to Elijah Coray of Kenai, a first-time athlete at the Homer games. Coray said he was told about highland games by a coworker of his, Brett McDonald, who is a regular at the games and had a hand in creating them along with Archibald and Homer’s Dave Brann.
Coray competed in the Palmer highland games, a week before the event in Homer, and then decided to travel to the end of the road to compete as well.
“I just went for it,” he said of entering the sport. “Hell, you know, you gotta give it a try.”
Coray started training with McDonald this spring in order to prepare for the games. He entered every competition on Saturday, also in the men’s master division.
The game he preferred most, he said, was the caber toss.
“It’s the toughest for me, but it’s my favorite,” he said.
There were four female competitors at this year’s games in Homer. Sherri Borchert, of Anchorage, was another first-time athlete at the Homer games. She had competed in the Palmer games the year before for the first time.
“I’m not the best, but I have a lot of fun doing it,” Borchert said. “It’s something fun. It’s not a typical sport. You get to throw things and yell and have fun, and everybody really cheers everybody on.”
Borchert placed third overall in her first-ever appearance in the Homer competition.
“You get to be a badass,” she said. “That’s the draw of it.”
There to lighten the mood of fierce competition was the Scottish musical trio The Fire, who played at the larger highland games event held in Palmer only the weekend before. They enchanted onlookers with tunes both Scottish and Irish in origin throughout the day, and had an encore performance during a ceilidh, or party, held at the Kannery Grill after the games.
Those who attended the games were also treated to numerous tents and booths sporting Scottish clan information and wares.
There was even an arena for wee lads and lassies to practice the games on a miniature scale, ensuring their success as clansmen and women in the future.
Eighth Annual Kachemak Bay Scottish Highland Games results:
Amateur men: 1. Danny Autrey, 11 points; 2. tied were Justin Moore and Tim Dommek, 28 points; 4. Charles Knefelkamp, 32 points; 5. Zachary Fraley, 43 points; 6. Nelson Alger, 57 points; 7. Ian McCormick, 63 points; 8. Patrick Clark, 70 points; 9. Joshua Fraley, 76 points.
Novice men: 1. Jack Moore, 14 points; 2. Codey Nye, 21 points; 3. Cody Krause, 25 points; 4. Brandon Thomas, 33 points; 5. Michael Tupper, 43 points.
Amateur women: 1. Brandi Neuterman, 14 points; 2. Heather Feil, 14 points; 3. Sherri Borchert, 29 points; 4. Jessica Bush, 34 points.
Masters men (age 40 and older): 1. Zach Easter, 10 points; 2. Toma Gillen, 22 points; 3. Pat Easter, 34 points; 4. Travis Odgen, 35 points; 5. Elijah Coray, 36 points; 6. Richard Clayton, 54 points; 7. Hal Shepherd, 62 points.