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A day of dancing and competition at the Highland Games

July 16, 2018
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Steve Schemstad of Bellingham competes in the hammer throw Saturday during the Highland Games and Celtic Festival at Edgewater Park in Mount Vernon.

MOUNT VERNON — Just before 6-year-old Nathan Recker took to the dancing stage Saturday morning at Edgewater Park, his mother made sure his outfit was orderly and offered some words of encouragement.

“Make sure to take your shoes off before you get on stage,” Nikki Recker, 40, said to Nathan as he walked away.

Nathan was one of many dancers who performed at the annual Skagit Valley Highland Games, a celebration of Scottish and Celtic culture, art, dance and athletics.

Clad in a green and plaid kilt with a white dress shirt backstage, he wore yellow Crocs over his dancing shoes and looked eager to get on stage.

Competitors of all ages and skills from across the Northwest and beyond came to participate in a weekend of traditional competition. For some, these traditions span generations.

Recker’s mother-in-law is Scottish and knew a traditional Scottish dance teacher. It wasn’t long before she got Recker’s children involved.

“My daughter started, and so my son naturally started competing,” Recker said.

Nathan walked away with three medals at the primary dances in his first year of competition: third place in the sword dance, third in Pas de Basques and fifth in PDB and High Cuts.

Elsewhere, kilts, jewelry and replica swords and axes lined the tables around CNT Global’s canopy tent. Warren Adams, 23, of Seattle bought a utility kilt.

“It was more than worth it,” Adams said. “It’s below the knee, so I can wear it to (work at) Starbucks.”

For Warren and family member William, this was their first time at the Highland Games.

Gregory Merry, a judge of 30 years, sat underneath an umbrella judging solo drummers.

“(It’s great) seeing old friends cause you don’t see them for a year,” Merry said. “I’d say I’m closer with my pipe band friends than with my high school friends.”

Merry said traditional piping, dancing and drumming runs in his family.

At the athletic fields, Damien Fisher was preparing to compete in the light hammer throw. Around the Northwest Scottish athletics circles, Fisher is known as a professional.

“He comes out here and pulls all of us out of the water. Shows us what we should be doing,” fellow competitor Jesse Small said.

Fisher said he usually competes in 10 to 12 games a year, traveling as far out as Pennsylvania. He competes in stone throws, hammer throws and the sheaf toss, where competitors toss a sheaf bag over a bar with a pitchfork.

“It’s both pretty fun and pretty stupid,” Fisher said.

Fisher was first up for the light hammer, where athletes get three tries throwing a 16-pound rubber hammer.

After swinging it around four times Fisher released the hammer, sending it 134 feet. During the first round, other competitors averaged 80-foot throws.

“I have a good relationship with the light hammer, because it’s my best event,” Fisher said.

Fisher said he started competing in 2013 after visiting the Bellingham Highland Games.

“This is one of the very first games I did, so it’s always cool to come out when I can,” Fisher said.

The festival continues Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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