Fun in the sun at annual Scottish Highland Games

Attendance booms as fans flock to Eagle River festival


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Bret Hamilton, of Peters Creek, prepares to throw a weight during the 31st Annual Alaska Scottish Highland Games on Saturday, June 30 at Lions Park in Eagle River.

MATT TUNSETH

Sunny skies likely drew a record crowd to this year’s Alaska Scottish Highland Games.

“This is probably eight thousand people today,” said Games chair Chris Anderson on Saturday, June 30.

By 2 p.m. — fully eight hours before the final bagpipes sounded — Anderson said the 31st annual event had already run out of its allotment of 6,500 wrist bands.

“This is definitely one of the largest crowds that we have ever seen,” she said.

The always-popular festival at Eagle River Lions Park drew Scottish bands from across Alaska and Scottish Games athletes from across the state and nation.

Seattle’s Greg Bell competed in the professional category for the fourth time. A massive former college football player, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Bell said he comes to Alaska each year as much to meet old friends as to heave heavy weights.

“It’s a very social games,” Bell said. “Here you get to meet a lot of people.”

Bell competed against five other men in the professional category of the field events, one of the festival’s star attractions. The men wowed the crowd by tossing heavy weights around the field like toys. Class winner Rusty Price of Snelling, Calif., took first place overall among the pros. Price showed his strength by setting a new record in the 22-pound Braemar stone event by heaving the big rock 41 feet and one half inch.

Although the six professionals got a lot of the fans’ attention, the games also included amateur men’s, women’s and even children’s competitors. Peters Creek’s Bret Hamilton, 55, said he was competing in the games to try to match his son, Michael.

“I’m down here throwing with the kids instead of with the old guys where I belong,” Hamilton joked during the competition.

Both Hamilton men showed up in their family’s tartan kilts and a family-crest t-shirt, as did Bret’s wife. Bret said he inherited his kilt from his dad, and this year he wanted to really show off his Scottish pride.

“We’re kinda doing it official this year,” he said.

Competitors in the field events were the only games attendees required to wear kilts, but that didn’t keep hundreds of others from wearing Scottish garb to the festival. Anderson said the chance to celebrate Scottish heritage is one of the festival’s main attractions.

“People come out here and they find out they have a little Scottish in them and they love it,” she said.

Anderson said a host of volunteers was needed to make the annual event possible.

“Couldn’t do this without ‘em,” she said.

Festival entertainment also included food, games, a tug-of-war, a Scotch-tasting tent (adults only, of course) and Scottish-rock bands from Scotland and Australia.

And of course lots of Scottish piping and drumming from the four bands — Eagle River’s own Alaska Celtic Pipes and Drums, the Anchorage Scottish Pipe Band, Crow Creek Pipes and Drums, and the Fairbanks Red Hackle Pipe Band — who took part in the festival.

Anderson said it was no surprise that people packed Lions Park all day long and into the evening.

“They love the bagpipes, they love the athletes, they love the tug-of-war, and the bands this year have been just phenomenal,” she said.

Anderson said the fun and sun combined to make for a memorable festival.

“This is the place to be,” she said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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