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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Get excited for the big rocks and bagpipes of the Middlebury Highland Games

Middland Games competitor Jack Greenberg ’23.5 executes the stone-to-shoulder event at a practice session outside of Coffrin Hall. Athletes have one minute to perform as many repetitions as possible from the ground to one shoulder with the heaviest of four stones that they can manage.
Middland Games competitor Jack Greenberg ’23.5 executes the stone-to-shoulder event at a practice session outside of Coffrin Hall. Athletes have one minute to perform as many repetitions as possible from the ground to one shoulder with the heaviest of four stones that they can manage.

We are bringing the Highland Games to Middlebury College. For centuries, people have come together to celebrate Celtic culture at these events, centered around music, dance, food and athletics on Saturday, April 22. Although they originated in the Scottish Highlands, the Highland Games can now be found all over the world and in most U.S. states.

The Middland Games are Middlebury’s first official Highland Games. They are a student-led event that has transformed from backyard tree-throwing into a full celebration of Scottish culture and the Middlebury community. Events like the Middland Games are important to the college because they bring people together to continue rich cultural traditions that echo our histories in a meaningful, experiential way. The Games have built community at Middlebury by inviting people with interests in music, weight lifting, dance, Scottish culture, food and sports to come together in enjoyment of the festivities and each others’ company. There are many draws to the Middland Games, and they mean something different to each spectator, musician, competitor and organizer. Nonetheless, I feel as though we are all united in a contagious excitement that we welcome everyone in the community to join.

Culture, community and inclusivity are at the heart of the Middland Games, which will consist of traditional Scottish music performed by several Vermont-based instrumentalists and Middlebury students, a Scottish themed food truck and four Highland athletic events with over 40 student competitors. Highland Games athletics are typically contested in tartan kilts, which is the traditional Highland dress. A kilt order went out among the students, and many competitors will be enthusiastically tossing stones in their twirling tartans. Even so, everyone is welcome to compete at the Middland Games, regardless of outfits or cultural heritage. A group of students, with the help of the Student Activities Office, is organizing, running and officiating the Middland Games. The College’s support of student initiatives like the Middland Games helps to build a sense of belonging and community among the students.

Highland athletic events demand unconventional, taxing, and often highly technical feats of strength. The Middland Games will include: the caber toss (flip a telephone pole end over end), the stone-to-shoulder (lift a large rock to one shoulder and take a hand away), the Braemar stone throw (like a shot put, but think bigger) and the weight-over-bar (throw a heavy sandbag overhead with one arm to clear a bar that increases in height). In the interest of making these events more accessible to a greater number of people, each event will have a number of different weight options. The goal is to create a welcoming environment by providing an appropriate level of challenge to all competitors.

During practice sessions for the Middland Games, I have experienced primordial feelings of challenge, excitement, frustration and accomplishment, particularly with the caber toss and stone-to-shoulder. There is something unbelievably exciting about trying to pick up a big rock while everyone cheers you on, and I have seen my own excitement, frustration and accomplishment reflected back to me in the faces of our competitors. The community that has gathered around the Middland Games is encouraging, inclusive and enthusiastic.

These events offer a great spectacle for those who are there to cheer on their friends, enjoy the food and live music and find out what in the world is going on across Battell Beach. The performances of Vermont-based traditional musicians Timothy Cummings (Department of Music affiliate artist on Highland bagpipes), Peter Macfarlane (fiddle), Viveka Fox (fiddle) and Rick Klein (guitar) as well as student musicians Sammy Conrad-Rooney (whistles and smallpipes) and Sam Maxwell (Highland bagpipes) will connect the Middland Games to our broader Vermont community and provide the festive magic of music that has stood the test of time. When played well, I find live bagpipe music to be uniquely powerful in its ability to evoke passion, excitement, melancholy, nostalgia and grandeur. Our fiddlers will lead spectators in traditional dances that help people put aside the concerns of image to join one another in the embodiment of music. The Middland Games is meant to be enjoyed as much by the spectators as by the musicians and competitors. 

It has been incredible to see the Middland Games grow from an idea into a reality. This event was made possible through the hard work, creativity and dedication of student organizers, the support of the Student Activities Office and a receptive, adventurous Middlebury community. Helping to pull together the Middland Games has held together my senior year in a number of ways. I have made many new friends, and devoting my efforts to such a positive, exciting community event has added purpose and meaning to my time here at Middlebury. Through my participation in the Middland Games, I have felt more connected to parts of my own family history, a sense of belonging to a rich cultural tradition and greater appreciation for the Middlebury community. I have been pleasantly reminded of the beauty and importance of culture and community, and would like to thank everyone who has involved themselves in the Middland Games.

Please join us in the festivities on Saturday, April 22 at 1 p.m. on Battell Beach.