They came from all over the country, kilt - clad lads and lassies, some carrying bagpipes in one hand and bottles of whiskey (Scotch of course) in the other, for the fifth annual Virginia Scottish Games and Gathering of the Clans last Saturday in Alexandria.
They came to socialize to test their physical mettle and, above all, to celebrate their highland heritage.
"We're here to sign up new members for the clan," said Keith Mackenzie, a West Virginia native who put his family in a car and drove 350 miles to participate in the event. "We had to be here for the good of the clan."
He found few people with the proper bloodlines to qualify as clansmen, but he found many with the right spirit. Would-be Scotsmen mingled with the real thing as 12,000 to 15,000 people showed up at the Episcopal High School to watch the festivities.What they got was a heavy dose of Scottish history and a wee bit of clan hospitality.
The days of the warring clans are long gone, but the fierce pride in one's lineage is not. More than 40 clans set up tents at the event to speak of their people's heritage and to joust verbally with rival clansmen.
Thereis not a finer clan in all of Scotland," boasted a Gregor, and amid scoffing looks from a Grant and a McLeod. There is no mistaking a fellow clansman. He wears his clans kilt with pride and rarely utters a sentence without making some reference to his roots.
"Sometimes I feel uncomfortable putting so much emphasis on my family background," said Craig R. Keith of Alexandria. "But not that uncomfortable."
Alexandria seemed to be the ideal site for this clan gathering since the city owes its name to Scottish merchant John Alexander and much of its atmosphere to the old country. For two days prior to the games, the streets of Alexandria were filled with bagpipe music and Scottish dancing in anticipation of Saturday's celebration.
In this age of ethnic pride, the Scots rank among the proudest of them all. At last week's celebration they regaled the crowd with piping, druming, fiddling and highland dancing. They fed the crowd with meat pies, shortbreads and bridies (meat and onions covered by pastry shell). And they amazed the crowd with feats of athletic strength and skill seldom seen at ordinary, run-of-the-mill track meets.
Hundreds of spectators watched mammoth men hurling objects that lesser mortals would barely be able to lift off the ground. These "supermen" were vying in the day-long Heptathlon, an ancient Scottish athletic competition composed of seven grueling events - the 16 pound stone put, the 22-pound hammer throw, the 28- and 56-pound weight throws, the sheaf toss, the 56-pound weight toss and the caber toss.
A distinction is made between the "throws," which are for distance, and the "tosses," which are for height or accuracy. Most of the throwing events resemble conventional track and field competitions, but the tossing events are in a category by themselves.
But the real crowd pleaser was the caber toss, which originated the days when Scottish woodsmen used to toss logs across streams. A caber is a 20-foot-long log weighing approximately 125 pounds that contestants hold upright and then try to toss end-over-end. The winner is the contestant whose toss lands closest to the "12 o'clock position," directly in front of him.
Some records were broken at the meet, including the national mark for hammer throw. Keith Tice of Clovis, Calif., threw the hammer more than 90 feet. He was one of several competitors who tour the country participating in events such as these for the pure love of sport (they get no prize money).
For those spectators who prefer art to athletics, the games also featured a variety of competitions in dance, bagpiping and fiddling. More than 170 dancers and some 15 pipe bands com-
But the weather failed to dampen the enthusiasm of most spectators. One of the participants was parading around in a tee-shirt that read, "Scottish Fever - Catch It." The thousands of people in Alexandria obviously had."