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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Middland Games: A celebration of athleticism, Scottish culture and community

Thomas Perry ’25 competes in the caber toss at the 2023 Middland games.
Thomas Perry ’25 competes in the caber toss at the 2023 Middland games.

Last Saturday, Middlebury College hosted its first official Highland Games, also known to students as the Middland Games. Over 40 students competed, demonstrating their athletic prowess while audience members cheered.

It was a celebration of culture, and the Middlebury community enjoyed live music and Scottish food while watching students showcase their athletic abilities across multiple events (the caber toss, weight over bar, the stone throw and stone-to-shoulder).

“I’m not sure I ever thought I would witness something like this on campus here, and I love it. I’m so impressed with both the organization that the students have shown and their level of enthusiasm, and also the turnout and participation has been super encouraging,” said Timothy Cummings, the bagpipe player at the event.

The event was a culmination of the collective efforts of various individuals in the community. The Games team of seven student leaders organized the event Noel Anderson ’23, Sam Pelletier ’23, Mary Whisnant ’23, Cole Helgaas ’23, Ran Brown ’24, Calvin Dupree ’23 and Willie Thacker ’23. David Wilder, director of programming and events at the Students Activities Office, helped secure a Scottish food truck for the event. Lauren Sayula ’23 captured hundreds of photos, and the makerspace staff in the Freeman International Center helped create the laser engraved wood medals for winners.

“We started from scratch, choosing the events and how to score them, creating a design for a t-shirt order and prizes, advertising and general setup for the event,” said Sam Pelletier ’23, an organizer for the event. “ It was a lot of work to go from picking up rocks with friends to hosting a festival with four athletic events, live music and food. It takes a great deal of organization and coordination to bring together such a multifaceted event, and the work we put in showed through in how well the event ran.”

The Middland Games consisted of four events that tested the strength and technical skill of competitors: the stone-to-shoulder, caber toss, Braemar stone throw and weight-over-bar. Participants were in four different weight classes: women under 140, women over 140, men under 190 and men over 190. Each athlete was cumulatively scored across all four events to determine their rankings in the Games.

Megan Paasche ’24 won the women’s under 140; Emma Henry ’25 won the women’s over 140; Quinn Donaldson ’26.5 won the men’s under 190; and Thomas Perry ’25 won the men’s over 190. Winners received a champion’s medal made out of a wooden disc from a caber..

“My favorite part of the games was the amount of people who competed. I thought that it was really great that so many people were involved,” Perry said.

There was an emphasis on safety and inclusivity for all event participants — participants signed waivers, an ambulance was onsite in case of an emergency and organizers offered different weight options for each event to increase accessibility.

“We wanted all of our competitors to attend practice sessions prior to the competition for safety and competence,” Pelletier said. “We coached them through the unconventional movements on at least four separate occasions leading up to the Games.”

“Incredible event — shoutout to the Highland Games team for putting it all together, they killed it,” participant Alexis Ballo ’25 said. “It’s a lot of fun — my back's hurting a little bit, but I signed a waiver so we’re all good.”

The different weight levels also increased accessibility at the games.

“Obviously they are [people] a lot stronger than me, but I still like how I got to pick up the rocks and throw stuff and have fun,” participant Julia Levin said. “I was not really competing to win, I was competing to have fun and I felt like that was really supported. It was also super cool to see the Scottish community that came out.”

In terms of next year's Middland Games, the future is unpredictable.

“It would take a particular collection of people to keep it going, since most of us are leaving,” Pelletier said. “But the positive, energetic community that gathered around the first Middland Games leaves some hope that there may be a second. I would love to see the Middland Games continue, or even become a club at Middlebury. If it did return, it would be incredible to get more of the Middlebury and broader Vermont community involved.”

Still, the uncertainty around the game’s future should not undermine their success this year.

“I’ve been to Scotland many times, I’m from New Zealand, I’ve been to many Scottish Highland games, so it’s terrific it's become local here,” spectator and community member Eric McFerran said. “And I’m impressed with the organization and all the participants, the atmosphere, the music — so well done!”

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