Just like the ancient Greeks who tested their athletic prowess at the Olympics, the warriors of Scotland have gathered for centuries to hone their battle skills in the Highland Games. The Scottish competition, though, has recently expanded to attract an international field.
David Fulford of Fairhope traveled to Inverness in September to take part in the International Scottish Highland Masters Tournament. While there, he earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for most people tossing a caber (a wooden pole typically 19-20 feet long and weighing 175 pounds) at the same time. Of the 160 contestants, 66 were successfully thrown.
“The Highland Games are made up of seven events,” Fulford said. “I had a track and field background, throwing the shot put and discus. This translates to the stone put, and I got first place in the first games I entered. I had to learn the other events, but I was hooked.”
Fulford has long been attracted to the Celtic culture. He married his wife, Brandi, on St. Patrick’s Day while wearing a kilt. He competed in his first Highland Games in 2008, and has attended events in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Highland Games consist of several contests, of which the caber toss is the most iconic. The object is to balance the log, before running and launching it end-over-end. Competitors are judged on how close their log lands in a 12 o’clock position.
“This is what everyone comes to watch,” Fulford said. “It is like throwing a telephone pole.”
There are two events in the stone put. The Braemar Stone uses a 20 to 26-pound object for men, and competitors cannot run up to the toe-board. The Open Stone uses a 16 to 22-pound stone, and any throwing style is allowed.
The hammer throw is similar to the event at American track meets. The light hammer uses a 16-pound metal ball, while the heavy hammer goes at 22 pounds. The ball is attached to a 4-foot long shaft, made of rattan or PVC. The competitor cannot move their feet, and the ball is spun around their head and thrown over the left shoulder.
The weight throw in the Master’s Division uses a 42-pound ball linked to a chain with a handle. Only one hand is used to swing the weight.
Another event is based on throwing a 56-pound weight over a horizontal bar, using just one hand. “It is straight up over your head and over a bar. You better get out of the way,” Fulford said.
Fulford said the origins of the Highland Games can be traced back to the 1400s. Scottish warriors wanted to train while under British rule, so they had to disguise the activities as games. The winners were often selected to serve as the leader’s bodyguards.
“The games have not changed much,” Fulford said. “The Americans have added the Sheaf toss, which is a 16-pound bag stuffed with rope. You use a three-prong pitchfork and toss is like a bail of hay. They did not do that one in Scotland.”
Fulford said he had wanted to travel to the home of the Highland Games for some time, but he waited until he turned 40 in order to qualify for the Master’s Division. He submitted his scores from the American contests, and he was accepted.
“I competed in all the events,” Fulford said. “There were people from 14 counties, and I was in a group full of studs. There was one guy from the Netherlands who was 6-foot-8 and 350 pounds.”
Fulford said he finished in 15th place of out his field of 25.
“That is not bad for my first international event,” he said. “Many had been competing for 20 years. It is like a professional sport for many of the Germans and Danes.”
Fulford, who often attracts a crowd when he trains in a common area near his Baldwin County neighborhood, said he is taking a break from the games. He will return next year to compete in Florida at Orlando and Sarasota. He hopes to qualify for the next Master’s Championships, as they will take place in St. Louis. The games rotate between Scotland, America and Canada.
“There is a great camaraderie of people,” Fulford said. “Everyone is there to help each other. Once you belong, you have mutual respect. You don’t find that in every sport.”
Lady Rams seek title at the beach
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics will host its 2014 Women’s Soccer Championships at the Orange Beach Sportsplex Dec. 1-6. The fifth-ranked University of Mobile has a first-round bye, and will face the winner of Lindsey Wilson College and Columbia College on Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 6:30 p.m.
The Lady Rams (15-2-3) are in the tourney for the fifth straight season and ninth time overall. Mobile has a 14-game unbeaten streak, and is coming off a Southern States Athletic Conference tourney title. They have allowed only three goals over the last 13 games.
Mobile beat Columbia 1-0 to begin the regular season. They have faced six tournament qualifiers, posting a record of 4-1-2 in those games. The lone loss was to Cumberland.
Anchors aweigh in Mobile
The University of South Alabama football team will close out its regular season on Friday afternoon, when its hosts the U.S. Naval Academy. Kickoff at Ladd-Peebles Stadium is set for 2 p.m.
This is the return match between the two teams. The Jaguars lost 42-14 last year in Annapolis, Maryland.
Hopefully, a large crowd will turn out to honor both the visiting Midshipmen, many of whom will be defending our country during the next football season, and the USA seniors. Despite the fact it is the day after Thanksgiving and one of the biggest shopping events of the year, wouldn’t it be great to have a turnout like the Jags had for Mississippi State (minus the heat and concession problems).
Maybe we can get the Blue Angels to do a fly-over from Pensacola NAS prior to the game. You never know until you ask!