By Chadd McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States
The Highland Games are a centuries-old sporting event and festival that celebrate Scottish heritage. Games are based on unique aspects of life in Scotland, such as playing bagpipes, dancing, and drumming. Some of the most popular competitions are the “heavy athletics” involving kilted contestants demonstrating skill and strength.
What Are the Games?
One heavy athletic event is the caber toss. Competitors balance a long pine pole and run forward, attempting to toss it end over end so that the top of the pole hits the ground first. Judges rate the quality of the toss for those contestants who successfully turn the caber.
Other heavy athletic events unique to the Highland Games are the weight over the bar and sheaf toss. In the weight over the bar event, participants toss a four-stone (56-pound) weight over progressively higher bars. The athlete who tosses the weight over the highest bar with the fewest number of misses wins the contest. In the sheaf toss, contestants also attempt to toss a heavy item over successive bars, but in this case they use a nine-kilogram (20-pound) bundle of straw.
Variations of two other events, the stone put and Scottish hammer throw can be found in the modern Olympic games. Like the shot put, the stone put entails hurling a stone as far as possible. Women throw stones weighing eight to 18 pounds. The stones thrown by men weigh 16 to 26 pounds. Hammer throw athletes fling a 16- to 22-pound ball attached to a four-foot long rod. Contestants with the longest tosses win each event.
What Else Happens?
Music and dance play an important role in the Highland Games. Bagpipe bands open and close the games with Scottish classics like Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave. Participants also can dance to Scottish music played on the drums, fiddle, and harp.
Where Can You Find Them?
Modern Highland Games have become quite popular in many locations around the world. Outside Great Britain, fans can watch contests throughout Europe and the United States. Games are even held in Bermuda and Brazil. You don’t have to live in Scotland to enjoy the games they originated!
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Learning Activities for Grade 6:
- Balfour came to the Highland Games and knew he could easily win the weight over the bar game. There was only one problem: he totally forgot to bring his four-stone weight to the games. After initially panicking, he asked his friend Brodie if he could please borrow some of his straw from the sheaf toss to use in his game. To be fair to the other competitors, how many bundles of straw does Balfour need to throw so it weighs the same as a four-stone weight?
- Linda wanted to prove she was as strong as a man in the bar toss. How many eight-pound stones equal a men’s four stone?
Social Justice Questions
What do you think about men and women competing in separate categories for the same event? Can you think of arguments contradictory to your own opinion?
- Website for the Scottish Highland Games Association
- Website for the Association of Scottish Games and Festivals
- Video demonstration of the caber toss
- Video explaining the history and events of the Highland Games
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