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Great Scots! Highland Games return

Festival features music, dancing, athletic competitions
by: File photo Runners of the Highland Games Kilted Mile take off from the starting line to a cheering audience inside the Mt. Hood Community College stadium, where the games were held last year.

It's that time of year again, when Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St., is overrun by kilted bagpipers, high-stepping dancers and caber-tossing musclemen.

It's the 59th annual Portland Highland Games, when all things Scottish are celebrated. The festival takes place the evening of Friday, July 15, and all day Saturday, July 16, in and around the college's athletic fields.

Kaelyne Mowell and her husband, Carl, are from Gresham and serve as the games' athletic directors. She says the caber toss is the most popular event among spectators.

'It's often referred to as the telephone pole toss,' she says. 'It's a visually stunning event. You're talking about 16 to 25 foot logs that often weigh 75 to 135 pounds, and you see the athlete pick up the big stick, run and flip it.'

Mowell, who has competed in such events as open stone - a Scottish shot put - as well as hammer toss, says the games 'reflect back on my history - I'm of Scottish descent - but it's also a very family-oriented festival.'

Here's a rundown of events

Friday, July 15

7:30 p.m.: Piobaireachd Piping Competition in the college theater, main entrance on Northeast 257th Avenue.

Admission is $5. The performers and judges require silence from the audience; as a result, this event is not appropriate for children under 5.

Saturday July 16

8 a.m.: Gates open to football stadium, gym and soccer field.

Festival will feature individual Highland dance, solo piping and drumming competitions; fiddling competitions in the gym; and heavy athletic competitions on the upper field.

The festival will also feature food and other vendors, music and country dancing.

On the upper field, you can find tents staffed by different clans as well as demonstrations of shinty, a team game played with sticks and balls. You can also see sheepdog demonstrations there.

In the gym, you can explore your geneaology.

Noon: Welcoming ceremonies featuring this year's 'Chieftains of the Day,' folks who have made a significant contribution of preserving the Portland Highland Games through the years.

This year's chieftains are Colin MacKenzie and Bonnie Heather Blyth MacKenzie.

Colin was a founding member and pipe major of the Blue Heron Bay Pipe Band, one of the first Grade 1 pipe bands in the United States.

Bonnie began teaching dance when she was 13 and in 1965 became a member of the Highland Branch of the British Association of Teachers of Dance. In 1990, she was honored as a Life Member and went to Scotland to accept this recognition.

Other highlights include the 2011 Guest Band, the Prince Charles Pipe Band from San Francisco, and a parade of clans.

12:45 p.m.: Kilted mile race.

1:15 p.m.: Highland dance challenge events.

2 p.m.: Pipe band competition.

5:15 p.m.: Raffle drawing for vacation in Scotland.

5:20 p.m.: Regimental drum major competition.

5:40 p.m.: MacTarnahan's memorial challenge caber toss.

6:15 p.m.: Parade of massed bands.

6:30 p.m.: Ceilidh (party) with Men of Worth and Beltaine.

Admission at the gate is $20 for adults, $10 for children 6 to 17 and free for children 5 and under.

For more information, visit phga.org.

Tartan trivia

At the Highland Games you will see the competitors as well as many other people wearing their family tartan. There was a time, however, when the Scottish were not allowed to wear their tartan by the English, who in 1747 banned the tartans, following the failed Jacobite Rebellion.

The wearing of the tartan, playing of the bagpipes, speaking of Gaelic and bearing arms of any kind was strictly proscribed and severely punished for 36 years.

Legend has it the Scots hid pieces of the forbidden tartan under their clothing when they went to church. At a secret signal the cherished pieces of tartan were fingered and a prayer was recited.

Source: phga.org