“Give the people what they want.”
“The people want Scotch.”
Similar exchanges could be heard all over Karen Hornaday Park on Saturday, along with the occasional phrase in Scots, as men and women from around the country and Alaska put their abilities and sense of kilt fashion to the test in the annual Kachemak Bay Highland Games.
Approximately 500 people piled into the park Saturday and packed into stands overlooking the fields to watch this year’s games, which are a nod to traditional Scottish Highlander culture, with a few Alaska twists.
Danny Autrey cruised past the competition to take first place in the Men’s Open class this year with 11.5 points. He was followed by Robert Moody in second with 20.5 points and Tim Patterson in third with 29.5 points. Highland games are scored similarly to track and field events — the better you do, the lower the overall score.
Autrey also performed a feat which hasn’t been done at the Kachemak Bay Highland Games in several years: he “just barely” managed to turn the coveted challenge caber, a 18-foot, 11-inch log weighing in at 110 pounds. The challenge caber hasn’t been turned since Matthew Patterson did it in 2015, according to games coordinator and Kachemak Bay Scottish Club President Robert Archibald.
For the women, Chrystal Rubert of Washington took first place with 9 points. Originally from Anchorage, Rubert threw in track and field when she was in high school.
“I actually didn’t find the highland games until about six years ago,” she said. “So I tried a local highland games down where I’m at and I’ve kind of been hooked ever since.”
Rubert has competed in the Palmer games for three years, but this was the first time she made it down to Homer as well.
“The athletes here, they’re just great,” she said. “Honestly, the people here, just in Alaska in general are just great, so I love being back up here.”
Rubert’s favorite event at the highland games is the caber, because of the procedural challenge it poses.
“It’s one of the few events that we have that’s actually really technical in base,” she said. “Everything else is strength, so distance and height, but the caber is — it kind of combines all of it. It is strength, and then you’ve got technique and then you’ve got accuracy because you actually have to get it to turn.”
Archibald said the turnout this year was impressive and signaled to him that the community of Homer is really starting to embrace the event and look forward to it.
“It’s becoming something in town,” he said. “That’s heartwarming.”
The games featured more than 26 competitors from both inside and out of Alaska, as well as a handful of judges brought up from the Lower 48. That’s something Archibald has been dedicated to doing from the very beginning, he said.
“We had a great group. Everybody was having fun,” Archibald said. “That’s why I bring the guys (judges) up from Outside, because if you’re going to do anything, you want people to have a good time and be scored properly.”
In all, competitors in this year’s games participated in nine events including the traditional caber toss and the Braemar stone put. They also got time to try their hand at some less official events: the keg toss and the Kachemak Bay-inspired halibut toss. (The “halibut” is made out of weights in a bag sewed in the shape of the fish and no marine animals are harmed in the making of the event.)
Fans were treated to vendor booths, food and performances by The Fire, a Scottish music band who played at the games last year for the first time. Organizers of the Kachemak Bay Highland Games work in conjunction with the Alaska Scottish Club, which hosts the annual Alaska Scottish Highland Games in Palmer.
The Alaska Scottish Club got a grant to bring The Fire to the Palmer games last year, and liked them so much they asked them back, Archibald said. Holding the two highland games just a week apart allows performers, athletes and judges from Outside to get the most out of their trips to Alaska, he said.
Some of those Outside competitors were Dan Gregory and Jess Fuhrman of Boise, Idaho. Gregory has competed in highland games before and has competed in the Palmer event, but Fuhrman, his girlfriend, had never picked up a Braemar stone or tossed a caber before this summer. Saturday’s events were her first-ever highland games.
“I’ve always loved any type of sport, and trying a new sport is exciting,” Fuhrman said. “I’m a hockey player, and I told Dan that if he would play hockey, that I would do the highland games.”
Fuhrman said she hopes more people will give the games a try, even if they’ve never done them before.
“I’ve got to say, it’s not as scary as it looks,” she said. “Anyone can try it. Anyone can just show up and they’ll help you and teach you.”
Chris Moore, who’s been throwing for six years, also competed in the Kachemak Bay Highland Games for the first time on Saturday. He also judged the Alaska Scottish Highland Games in Palmer last weekend.
“The community is fantastic,” Moore said. “They’re supportive, they’re very warming. It’s a very nice community. You feel welcome when you come to it.
Besides Autrey’s toss of the challenge caber, Archibald said there were several notable moments and broken records at Saturday’s games.
“Ever since we did it to begin with, it has grown,” he said of the games. “And to see that many people turn out in that kind of heat to enjoy the day was great.”
2019 Kachemak Bay Scottish Games
Men’s Open Class
1. Danny Autrey 11.5 points; 2. Robert Moody 20.5 points; 3. Tim Patterson 29.5 points; 4. Tim Dommek 36 points; 5. Charles Knefelkamp 44.5 points; 6. Nelson Alger 53.5 points; 7. Ian McCormick 63 points; 8. Cody Krouse 65.5 points.
Men’s Masters Class (40 and older)
1. Dan Gregory 14 points; 2. Chris Moore 16 points; 3. Travis Ogden 28.5 points; 4. Duncan Steward 32.5 points; 5. Richard Clayton 44 points.
Men’s Novice Class
1. Eamon Tuite 14.5 points; 2. Charles Stewart 19.5 points; 3. Alex Fearn 20 points.
Women’s Masters Class
1. Michelle Crowhart 9 points.
Women’s Open Class
1. Chrystal Rubert 9.0 points; 2. Jessie Dommek 19.5 points; 3. Heather Feil 30.0 points; 4. Brandy Neuterman 35.0 points; 5. Maggie Wallace 54.0 points; 6. Sherri Borchert 59.0 points; 7. Laci Barclay 60.5 points; 8. Jess Fuhrman 61.0 points; 9. Lisa Patterson 77.0 points.