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Preserving tradition and culture through sport

art frWith each throw, Scott Medlin is connecting to his ancestors.

“The Scottish Highland Games need to be preserved because most of the gatherings included athletic competitions, with each clan gathered around cheering on their representative of the clan,” the 58-year-old said. “It’s really about the competition and knowing that I too have done this and there’s not many people in the world that can do this.”

President of the Southeastern Highland Athletic Group, Medlin, from Catawba County, said the organization will once again be traveling to Franklin for the Taste of Scotland & Celtic Festival on June 14. Celebrating the rich Scottish heritage and culture of Southern Appalachia, the event showcases traditional foods, attire, activities and, of course, the Highland Games.

“A lot of clans [today] don’t have representatives, but clan tents are still placed around the competition field,” he said. “We have evolved now, where many athletes like to compete, but they must wear a kilt with their family crest if at all possible.”

Within the seven athletic events, there’s the clachneart (stone throw), weight throw, hammer throw, caber toss, sheaf toss and weight over bar. Objects range from a 22-pound hammer and 16-pound bag of hay to a 56-pound weight and 120-pound pole. Each event is about sheer brawn, patience and technique, where contestants are judged on their style, distance of throw and technique.

“As an ex-competitor — I still throw some when the wife doesn’t know — I took the positive from previous games and threw away the negative to make the competition field game friendly and positive, making sure the athletes are taken care of and that competition blends nicely with the music, clans, border collies, dancing and others as time permits,” Medlin said.

Having a Scottish background himself, Medlin had an early appreciation for attending Scottish games. He has since traced his genealogy, finding out his last name came from the “Maitland/Lauderdale” families of Scotland.

These days, Medlin is the track and field throwing coach for Lenoir Rhyne University in Hickory. The techniques, skills and events on the 21st century field are not only similar to those of the Highland Games, but they also provide a physical and emotional connection to the competitions of the past.

“I love watching men and women improve from game to game, and I really like helping them develop a good technique in throwing,” he said. “I do this because I do love the Scottish Highland Games, the athletic competition and the people associated — it’s definitely fun.”

Medlin is proud of once again having the SHAG bring the Highland Games back to the Taste of Scotland & Celtic Festival. To him, the town of Franklin truly encompasses a proud and rich Scottish heritage that still vibrates through the mountains of Western North Carolina. 

“I love the area, the town and its affiliation with Scotland,” he said. “I focus on safety, completing a game before 5 p.m. and then return home to post each throwers scores on a board called NASGA, so that all can see their world ranking. This improves as their throws improve. To validate throwers scores, I have judge clinics to train individuals that have the love of the sport.”


Highland games events

During the Taste of Scotland & Celtic Festival in Franklin on June 14, there will be several demonstrations of Highland Games. They include, in order, the following:

• Clachneart (Stone Throw): This event, the “Stone of Strength,” was introduced in the mid-19th century at Scottish games and is similar to the modern shot putt. Contestants have three tries to “throw” a 16-pound stone with one hand for distance.

• Weight Throw: Two different weights are used in these two events, a 28-pound weight thrown for distance and a 56-pound weight thrown for height and distance. The weights are traditionally block or bell shaped and on a short chain. Contestants have three tries to throw each weight.

• Hammer Throw: The modern hammer, 22 pounds, in this event is a descendant of the blacksmith’s sledgehammer. The contestant must keep his feet firmly planted until after the throw.

• Caber Toss: The most popular athletic event at any games requires a combination of strength, skill and balance. The Caber is a pole 18 to 20 feet long, weighing from 80 to 120 pounds. It must be tossed end-over-end to land pointing directly away from the athlete. Each contestant gets three attempts. 

• Sheaf Toss: A 16-pound bag of hay is tossed by a pitchfork over a cross bar which is raised at two-foot intervals. Each contestant gets three tries at each height. They are eliminated if they miss all attempts.

• WOB: The Weight Over Bar is a 56-pound weight. It is thrown with one hand over a cross bar which is raised at one-foot intervals. Each contestant gets three tries at each height. They are eliminated if they miss all attempts.

For more information on the Southeastern Highland Athletic Group, click on


Want to go?

The Taste of Scotland & Celtic Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 14, in downtown Franklin. 

“North Carolina has more residents of Scottish heritage than any other state in the union,” said Doug Morton, event chairman. “In fact, North Carolina has more Scots than Scotland. This festival and supporting events is a sampler of everything Scottish.  We have a great weekend planned sure to be enjoyed by every member of the family.”

Patrons of the event will be able to sample traditional Scottish foods, see demonstrations of the Highland Games, shop for authentic Scottish attire, tour the nearby Scottish Tartans Museum, and hear plenty of Scottish/Celtic music. Performances will include My Three Kilts, Calendonia Swing, Dunham Harps, John Mor MacKinsoh Marching Piper Band, Juniper Trio and the Highlands Pipers.

A clan dinner will be held on the evening of Thursday, June 12. The buffet style meal is $20 per adult, $10 for children ages 12 and under.

The Taste of Scotland & Celtic Festival is sponsored by the Franklin Main Street Program, Franklin Tourism Development Authority, Macon County Tourism Development Committee and Franklin Merchants.

For a full schedule of events, visit the festival website at

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