Arts & Entertainment

Annual Caledonian Games kick off July 11 in Athena, Ore.

Ever thought of trying to toss a telephone pole?

The Caledonian Games in Athena, Ore., give anyone the chance to try a hand -- not to mention your back and legs -- at some traditional Scottish sports July 11-12.

"The games are the only games in the Pacific Northwest where people who have never tried or practiced can compete," said Sue Friese, president of this year's festivities.

The caber toss involves holding a large pole about the length and width of a telephone pole from the bottom and tossing it end over end in a straight line.

Other sports that competitors can try are the Scottish hammer throw and a stone put, which is similar to the shot put.

The games are held every year at the Athena City Park over two days and feature a gathering of family clans who have lived in the area for generations. Annual events include Scottish dances, Celtic harp music, stories, vendors, sheep herding and games.

Festivities begin July 11 with a 5K run at 7:30 a.m. from City Park. A parade down Main Street begins at 9 a.m. and a horseshoe tournament begins at 1 p.m. both days.

Games are offered for kids after the parade and include the loch leap (a smaller version of the caber toss), tam toss, haggis hurl, running through the rye and stag shoot.

Spectators can also watch the popular sheep dog trials from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the athletic field in City Park.

"It's fascinating to watch, because the coordination between man and dog is phenomenal," Friese said. The competition is timed and competitors are only allowed to communicate with the dogs through whistles and hand motions.

The Athena games began in 1899. They ended during World War I but started again in 1976 "to preserve and perpetuate Scottish social manners and customs" in following with the 1899 Constitution of the Caledonian Society of Umatilla County.

"The idea of gathering people goes way back in the Highlands," Friese said. "It's an ancient idea, nothing new."Another highlight of this year's event will be traditional Highlands dancing, which will be judged for technical form by rules set by a national committee.

The regimented dance form was created to represent the graceful movement of the wild Highland deer.

Other music and entertainment will include pipes, drums, fiddles and other traditional Celtic instruments played by Northwest groups. The Desert Thistle Pipe Band and Skweez the Weezle from the Tri-Cities are among the performers.

All events are free except a Saturday evening tattoo -- a large gathering of pipe and drum bands traditional to Scottish culture. Admission is $5.

Friese said the tattoo expects 50 to 60 bagpipers from throughout the region, including the Boise Highlanders, the River City Pipe Band from Portland and the Weston-McEwen High School Pipes and Drum.

Athena is about 25 miles south of Walla Walla and can be found by following the signs for Pendleton south on Highway 11, through Milton-Freewater. There are two exits off Highway 11 to Athena marked by blinking traffic lights.

For more information, go to or call Sue Friese at 541-566-3880 or e-mail

◗ Sarah Worden: 582-1515;