The turning of a giant log the size of a telephone pole. The tossing of a sheaf of straw with a pitchfork over a raised bar. The throwing of a hammer.
These are some of the traditional events, all done while wearing kilts, that will be on display at this weekend’s 2nd Annual Cape Fear Highland Games.
Locals will get a chance to experience and celebrate the ancient athletic culture of the Scottish Highlands on Saturday, April 2 on a field off Randall Parkway in midtown. The games were brought to the area by Joe Apkarian and his event co-organizer Ben Shaw through their friendship with Highland athlete and professional power lifter Byron Hamilton. Hamilton has competed in the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, which was started by descendants of Scottish immigrants in western North Carolina and has been held since 1956. Apkarian and Shaw attended the games there a couple of times to get a taste of what it was like.
“We wanted to replicate that here in the Port City,” said Apkarian, who said the Wilmington event was the only Highland Games in the region until Myrtle Beach recently held one.
This year’s day of events kicks off with a Kilted Beer Mile, where participants will drink a 12-ounce can of beer (or six-ounce glass of wine) before running a quarter of a mile. Those who don’t want to run a full mile, a relay option is also available, with each team requiring four people. For the lads and lassies who aren’t yet of legal age, a Kilted Milk Mile will also be held.
Following that will be the heavy athletics testing strength and endurance such as the turning of the caber (the telephone pole-like wooden log), the stone put and the Scottish hammer throw. Competitors will be divided into four categories: A (for the most elite athletes), B, masters (for the older competitors) and women.
“You’ll see guys that are mountains of men that are big and muscular and what you would normally think of when you picture these competitions, then you’ll see guys that are tall and lean who you think won’t be as good, but they’re just as strong,” said Apkarian. “It’s all about your skill and how you technically approach it. It’s really just fun to see these guys and girls in kilts tossing stuff around.”
Apkarian said there will also be some professional Highland athletes on hand to do exhibitions during the A category competition.
“Word of mouth was so good last year that pros wanted to come [this year]. That’s great considering we’re such a new event,” said Apkarian, who said turnout was around 3,500 in its inaugural year. “We had a great first year, and we’re looking to replicate that.”
There will also be a mini version of the games for the wee ones, who will get to do things such as toss smaller cabers that range in length from six to 10 feet. Putt-putt, face painting and other activities will also be available for kids.
“We wanted to have a good family event so that everyone can come out and have a good time,” said Apkarian.
Food, drink and merchandise vendors will be selling their traditional and modern goods, and there will be genealogy tents for those interested in clans and Scottish history.
Tickets for the event, which is being held at 3400 Randall Parkway, are $10. Children under age 10 and under are free. Registration is $30 for the milk mile, $35 for the beer mile and $100 for the four-person relay. Those prices include admission to the Highland Games.
All proceeds from the event benefit the MARSOC Foundation, a non-profit that supports the families of elite special operations Marines who have been injured or killed. As a former team commander in the 2nd Raider Battalion that falls under the United States Marine Special Operations Command, and an ambassador for the foundation, Apkarian is very connected to the cause.
“Being a Marine Raider – giving back to them and supporting them is very important to myself,” Apkarian said. “Any way we can help them, we try to do that.”
Registration for the runs begins at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, with the first race beginning at 8:30 a.m. The event will be bookended by a Friday night party from 6 to 9 p.m. at Buzz’s Roost in downtown Wilmington and an after party Saturday night at the Tilted Kilt on Market Street.