Bitterroot Valley Highland Games this Saturday in Stevensville | Local News

MICHELLE MCCONNAHA

The third annual Bitterroot Valley Highland Games hosted by the Scottish American Athletic Association and the Missoula Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will take place this Saturday, March 10 in Stevensville.

The Bitterroot Valley Highland Games have nine sporting competitions – two stone throws, two shot put for distance, shot put for height, two hammer throws, sheaf throw and caber throw. Competitors test their skills in the men’s and women’s divisions, as well as the level of ability. There is even entertainment for children.

Event organizer Garrett Middleton said the Bitterroot Valley Highland Games were a great opportunity to get started in Scotland’s sporting events.

“Athletes are always very welcoming to beginners and will coach each other in technique for all events,” Middleton said. “If someone comes in and has no throwing experience, they will be competing against those who are also at that level. There are also different age brackets. If you are over 40, we have a class for the masters.

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With numerous Celtic games, festivals, and gatherings throughout Montana, the Bitterroot Valley Highland Games is the premier gaming event of the year. Athletes prepare for competition at the Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering in Hamilton in August.

Local Highland athletes travel across the United States as well as to other countries, including Scotland and Iceland, to compete in Highland games.

Middleton said the Highland games became popular locally and the athletes came together to form the Montana chapter of the Scottish American Athletic Association. SAAA members attend games in Stevensville, Corvallis, Great Falls, Butte, Kalispell, Libby and Hamilton throughout the year, bringing with them Highland game equipment and certified judges.

Highland athletes come from different backgrounds and have different reasons for competing.

“A lot of them were former high school or college athletes and came into the games because of the competition aspect,” Middleton said. “Others were weightlifters or cross-fitters and wanted to try another strength sport. There are also military veterans who needed a positive activity to pursue after serving their country.

In addition to being a member of the SAAA, Middleton is a former Division 1 track and field athlete and the “throws” coach for the Corvallis High School track team.

“I love competing and improving my throws,” Middleton said. “I have been one of the best lightweight Highland Games athletes in the world for the past four years.”

Middleton placed 5th at the 2014 World Lightweight Champions, 3rd at the 2016 World Lightweight Championships, and 5th at the 2017 United States National Lightweight Champions in Tusla, OK.

Celtic heritage or experience is not required to participate in the Bitterroot Valley Highland Games although a kilt is recommended but not necessary for new competitors.

Registration for the adult game begins at 9 a.m. and costs $30 ($20 for new contestants).

Registration for the Kids Highland Game begins at 12:30 p.m. and kids practice at 1 p.m.

Middleton said the children’s practice is a learning opportunity.

“The adults take about 30 minutes to show the youngsters some of the events and they throw like the adults but using very light tools,” Middleton said. “At some of the bigger games and festivals we will have special classes for juniors and children for competition and they use weighted tools for their size. In August we have the children’s competition at the Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering.

The Caber Toss is the last event of the day and starts at 4:00 p.m. followed by the rewards at 5:30 p.m.

Registration for the Bitterroot Valley Highland Games can be completed online at saaa-national.org.

The Bitterroot Valley Highland Games benefit Montana SAAA and Missoula VFW.

Miles Wetzel of the Missoula VFW said he supports the games as an opportunity to bond with the community.

A graduate student from the University of Montana who previously lived in Victor, he serves on the VFW Post 209 Ole Beck canteen house committee. (Ole Beck was a World War I veteran from Missoula who fought and died for the United States). The Canteen is a bar with lower prices due to low overhead and profits pay for various VFW scholarships across Missoula.

“We use our canteen to raise money for veterans in the community,” Wetzel said. “I took on the responsibility of having a catering business through our canteen for a bigger stream of income.”

The VFW also donated $500 sponsorship for the Bitterroot Valley Highland Games and are the caterers for the event.

“A big part of what SAAA does is build community and they do that through competition,” Wetzel said. “There are quite a few veterans competing. Our missions converge in this way – we try to create a community among veterans.

The VFW will sell unique beer, wine and food using primarily local sources in the Five Valleys region.

They will serve beer from Bayern Brewery in Missoula, butter and cheese from Victor’s Lifeline Farms, pork shoulder from a Bitterroot farmer and processed by Hamilton Pack, and bread from Wheat Montana.

“Everything is as local as it gets,” Wetzel said. “We’re going to sell ridiculous ribs that are long and fat – like dinosaur bones really. It fits perfectly with the theme of the event which is “big guys throw big stuff”. We will eat monsters.

Wetzel said they will also have hot dogs, a BLT salad (macaroni, tomatoes, romaine lettuce and bacon) and grilled corn on the cob with a pot of hot butter to dip the whole cob.

Proceeds go to veterans.

“Whenever a veteran needs help, we try to find a way to help them as best we can,” Wetzel said.

The free sporting event will have a Celtic information and education tent and plenty of kilts.

Attend the Bitterroot Valley Highland Games from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 10 at Lewis and Clark Park, West Second St., Stevensville. The adjacent Bear Mountain Playground adds to the family event.

Middleton said the companies have sponsored cabers to make these games free for the public.

“Hopefully it will be the hottest day of the year so far this winter or hopefully spring,” Middleton said.


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Jennifer R. Strohm