Sir William Wallace would have been proud

Oct 11, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

A couple stood in line at the Frontier Airlines concourse in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

They wore matching shirts that read "Delta Football."I turned to them and said "Go Panthers."

They were surprised to hear their local mascot mentioned almost 2,000 miles from home, but maybe my Wyoming Cowboys cap gave me away.

"You know Delta?" the husband asked.

"Yes, I took teams to the Mesa State basketball camp in Grand Junction, and we played Delta a couple of times back in the 1980s and 90s," I said.

They asked me what brought me all the way from Wyoming to western Pennsylvania, and I told them about Adam, Staci and our granddaughter, Jayne.

I asked them the same question.Why were a couple from the richest fruit- producing area outside California or Florida doing in Pittsburgh.

"I'm from Ligonier," she said.

That struck a chord. We had been in Ligonier just three days before. I told them we had been at the Highland Games.

"I threw the caber, the hammer and tossed the weight," he said.

He was built like a thrower, wide and powerful, and I didn't envy him trying to squeeze into Frontier's latest passenger torture tool, the skeleton seat.

At his prompt, I remember him throwing in the weight for height event.

The Highland Games featured all things Scottish, from food to music to something they called heavy athletics.Heavy is a good term. The caber is a log about 16 feet long that weighs 175 pounds.

I've always thought of throwing one. As a much younger man, I planned to enter the event in Lander one summer. But life got in the way, and I never tried it.

I picked one up in Ligonier, and surprisingly, it didn't feel that heavy, but then again I was just lifting a log, not trying to balance it vertically before trying to throw it. It is much, much harder than it looks.

Scottish sports are long on power and don't worry much about speed or endurance.

The hammer throw is just a 16-pound hammer, much like a sledgehammer, but with a spherical head and a handle about 10 inches longer than the one you might have in your garage.

Putting the stone is nearly identical to the shot put familiar to track and field fans, but the throwing area is longer and narrower, and the object is an actual stone, not a steel or brass ball.

For raw, gut-wrenching power, nothing compares to the weight-over-distance or weight-over-height event.

I'm sure the local orthopedic surgeons quietly sponsor these events.

The senior division, for men 40 and older, features a weight similar to a kettle ball that weighs 42 pounds. As if that wasn't enough, the younger men's division has a 56-pound implement.

In the distance throw, an competitor runs up to the mark and tosses the weight as far as he can with only one hand.That's impressive enough, but the weight-over-height features a vertical version of the same toss.

The competitor stands with his back to the crossbar and swing the weight back and forth before dropping into a squat and then heaving the weight backward over his head.

The top athlete in the event was a local boy, Garret Blatnik, who now lives in Memphis, Tennessee. He and his girlfriend drove home to compete in Ligonier. Blatnik is the top amateur in the world.Yes, there are professional games.The world record for throwing a 56-point weight over your head is 18-6.Blatnik cleared 17-0 with only a single miss and hit the maximum height of the bar at 17-9 all three times, but couldn't get it over.His 17-0 effort won by over two feet and was impressive in itself.

Our friend from Delta finished fourth in the vertical throw with a 14-foot effort.

All in a day's work for a sport that dates back more than 1,000 years.