MAYBE your child can't pick up a 140-pound log and throw it end-over-end the way burly athletes can at the Virginia Scottish Games.
But what about pitching a six-foot-long cardboard tube? Or throwing a brick instead of a 16-pound river stone? Or tossing a paper bag stuffed with straw instead of the 25-pound bale of hay the big guys use? Now that's the ticket.
And likely as not, your youngster will go home with a ribbon and a smile and memories of a pleasant Saturday on the grounds of Episcopal High School in Alexandria. Maybe, he or she will also come away with a bit of history and an appreciation of things Scottish.
The 13th annual Virginia Scottish Games open at 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday. As a family outing, they're close to ideal. Youngsters 15 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult (and even if your son or daughter wants to attend without you, he or she will pay only $1). There's room for the kids to romp, places for picnicking in the shade, Scottish specialties to buy from vendors, athletic and musical competitions to watch, an exhibit of classic and antique British cars, the colorful massed bagpipe-and-drum bands and parade of the clans and tartans.
And then there are the dogs.
For centuries, the border collie has been the working dog of the Scottish highlands, prodding recalcitrant sheep into and out of pens, through gates and around obstacles. And every year, Dr. Gib McLaughlin, a dentist from Burns Head Farm in Indiana, Pa., has brought his dogs and his sheep to Alexandria for one of the best-liked events at the Scottish Games, the sheepdog demonstrations both days.
There are plenty of other dogs at the Scottish Games as well: little barking cairn terriers that race frantically along a course after a rabbit skin, deerhounds that demonstrate coursing and retrieving. In fact, 13 breeds of Scottish dogs are scheduled to appear, many in obedience trials and others in the dogs' parade.
While the dogs are real crowd- and kid-pleasers, athletic competition has been at the heart of such gatherings since the days of the ancient highland games of Northern Scotland when military chiefs would demonstrate their strengths at annual gatherings.
In modern times, the events have evolved into tests of skills needed in farming. The tossing of the log, or caber, is one of seven contests most often included in the heavy-events competition at the Highland Games. The others are the stone throw, the 28-pound weight throw, the 56-pound weight throw and 56-pound toss, the Scottish hammer throw, and the bale (sheaf) toss. (Items are thrown for distance, tossed for height.) Together, they are called the heptathlon, and the events at Alexandria's Scottish Games this year serve as the annual U.S. Highland Heptathlon Championships.
If your kids are inspired by the strength of professional and amateur competitors, they can test their own skills Saturday from 1 to 3 in low-key contests organized by Carol and Dan Boebel of Rockville.
The games, for youngsters from about five to 14, "are meant to be similar to the authentic athletic games, but on a child's level," Carol Boebel explained. "Instead of a bale toss, we have a big paper bag stuffed with straw that the kids can pitch with their hands. Instead of cabers, we have mini-cabers, big cardboard tubes that come inside of rolled carpeting . . . The weight object is a common brick wrapped with newspaper and tape that they pick up with two hands and pitch. We do have a foot race, too."
Last year, she said, several hundred youngsters participated in the games. And although "some of the kids who have done it year after year come with their kilts on and look very efficient," she noted, "it really doesn't make any difference." Youngsters who arrive from out of the crowd do just as well. "Anyone who shows up can participate in the next heat. They need only to wait long enough for the event to take place." She organizes heats of six to 10 children by age, declares winners and presents ribbons (including lots of honorable mentions) immediately.
When the kids are finished with their own games, they can wander with you among the more than 20 clan society tents to trace their genealogy and shop among the vendors for memorabilia and edibles. They may come away with a new appreciation for the fearsome Scots who went into battle to the skirl of the pipes and toss tapered tree trunks for the fun of it. Those guys in plaid skirts are no sissies. VIRGINIA SCOTTISH GAMES -- 8 to 5 Saturday and Sunday at Episcopal High School, 3900 W. Braddock Rd., Alexandria. Advance tickets (two days for $8, one day for $5) are available at the Ramsay House Visitors Center, 221 King St., Alexandria, between 9 and 5 through Friday. Tickets at the gate are $10 for both days, $7 for one day. Children 15 and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Unaccompanied children pay $1 at the gate. Concessions and clan tents will be open from 9 a.m.
By car from I-395 (Shirley Highway), take the Seminary Road exit east. Free on-street parking. By Metro, take the Yellow Line to Braddock Road or King Street stations and catch Alexandria's DASH bus AT-5 for 60 cents to Early Street/West Braddock Road stop. Call 370-3274 for DASH schedule. For more information, call a 24-hour taped message with detailed information on the games, 549-SCOT (549-7268). Or call the Alexandria Tourist Council, 549-0205. WHAT AND WHEN
The schedule for the Games: SATURDAY 9 , Amateur highland athletic events; highland dancing; pipe and drum competition; junior Scottish harp competition. 10 , Professional highland athletic events (heptathlon) begin. 11 , Scottish country dancing, open to audience participation; Scottish harp concert. Noon , Sheepdog demonstration. 12:30 , Opening ceremonies with massed pipe bands. 1 , Children's games. 1:15 , Scottish country dancing demonstration. 1:30 , Potomac Valley Scottish fiddling championships. 1:45 , Drum major competition. 2 , Tenor drumming competition. 2:15 , Pipe band competition. 2 to 4 , Scottish country dancing, open to audience participation. 4:30 , Sheepdog demonstration. 5 , Awards and closing ceremonies. 8 , Scottish country dance party at St. Stephen's Lower School, 1000 St. Stephen's Rd., Alexandria, $10 per person. SUNDAY 9:30 , Scottish church service, nondenominational.10 , Professional highland athletic competition resumes; professional masters (age 40 and up) competition begins. 10:30 , Scottish breed dog obedience demonstration. 11 to 3 , British antique cars exhibit. 11 , Coursing and retrieving demonstration featuring Scottish deerhounds. 11:30 , Sheepdog demonstration. Noon , Senior Scottish harp competition. Noon to 4 , Pipe band performances in clan tent areas. 12:30 , Parade of clans and tartans. 1 , Scottish country dancing demonstration. 1:30 , U.S. National Scottish Harp Competition; parade of Scottish breed dogs (13 breeds to be represented). 2 , Finals of terrier trials competition; U.S. National Scottish Fiddling Championships; awards ceremony for British cars. 2 to 4 , Scottish country dancing, open to audience participation. 4 , Sheepdog demonstration. 5 , Closing ceremonies: massed pipe bands and retiring of colors. 5:30 , Awards ceremony.
Patricia Brennan last wrote for Weekend on the annual Imagination Celebration for kids at the Kennedy Center.