The Alma Highland Games

On Sunday, May 27th, the Alma Highland Festival held the Amateur Division of its Highland Games…in blistering 96 degree heat. Here are a few snaps from the games.

Dale Gehman won the Masters Division

In the Amateur Division, Brendon Crawford took 1st place, Eric Spence  took 2nd place, and Martin Portko took third place, and he also won the Caber Champion award.


Eric Spence and Martin Portko 




Martin Portko – Caber Toss



Eric Spence – Caber Toss





Martin Portko – Sheaf Toss (25 pounds : 22 feet)

And just in case you ever wondered how a Highlander keeps cool on a brutal summer day, here’s your answer.



Introducing Taylor Kroll: Highland Games athlete, student, and all around awesome person!

Last month, at the Sparta Celtic Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor Kroll. She’s a 17-year-old college student and Highland Games athlete. She’s also an incredibly nice person and a great sport because she agreed to answer some questions for us.


I’m happy to see that more women are getting involved in the Highland Games, which have traditionally been a male sport. And I’m especially pleased to see younger women training and competing, but at seventeen, you’re definitely the youngest I’ve come across. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the sport? 

Becoming involved with this sport is a bit of weird story.  I never knew what the highland games were until three years ago when I started.  I actually meet one of the guys I throw with at a middle school track meet I was volunteering.  He started talking to my mom and she told him I need help with my shot put and discus.  So, the next weekend I went to his practice field and did not see them throwing shot put or discus. Him and two other guys were throwing caber and I had no idea what was going on.  Originally, I no intention of throwing highland games, but after a few practices, I started to practicing highland events with them and began to love the sport.

You’re regularly flinging around heavy weights and….well…trees. What drew you to that? 

Honestly, when I first started at 15, what drew me to it the most was my overall ranking.  After my first highland games I was ranked 25th and it completely blew my mind.  That sense of accomplishment kept me practicing and aspiring to become the best thrower I could be.  As I continued into the following years, the atmosphere during competition, the other throwers, and becoming a better highland athlete made me love the Highland games even more.

Do you have a favorite event? If so, which one and why? 

My favorite event is probably weight for distance- which is weird because if you would have asked me what my least favorite event was last year, i would have said weight for distance.  It is my favorite because it requires so much technique and while so many people have different ways to throw it, it comes back to the same basic technique.

Do you feel any additional pressure as a woman competing in what’s traditionally considered a men’s sport? 

I do not really feel any pressure.  It is honestly more frustrating to see games that do not offer women’s divisions, in particular, masters women.  These women are amazing athletes and deserve to be able to compete in the right division. 

Do you participate in any other sports? 

I am on the Ashland University Track and Field team

We’ve featured one Highland athlete who writes poetry. Do you have any other hobbies? 

Besides doing homework and throwing my hobbies are reading and biking.

Overall, most Highland athletes seem quite supportive of one another. Has that been your experience? If so, what’s the best advice you’ve received? 

Highland athletes are some of my favorite people because of this reason.  No matter what, everyone is willing to help.  I could be neck and neck with another athlete and she would still point out if I needed to correct something in my form.
Some of the best advice I have received from highland athletes does not even usually pertain to highland games.  Being as young as I was when I started (and as young as I am now), they have really helped mold me into the person I am today and I am so thankful for everything they have taught me.
Do you have plans for future competitions? 

My plans for future competitions is to do more.  I usually stick around Michigan and Ohio, but I want to expand my horizons. 

Any other big plans coming up? 

No big plans coming up.  Focusing on college right now.

Do you have any favorite inspirational (or otherwise) quote(s) you’d like to share?

“Dreams don’t work unless you do.”  I like this quote because it helps remind me it will not happen over night, I have to work for what I want. Another quote I really like is, “Never set a goal based on the measure of single success.  Always progress from the average, that is what you are trying to improve.”  Comparing myself to others is something I really struggle with, but this quote helps me focus on the importance of bettering myself , while not making a reference to things that are just going to make me more frustrated. It is okay to have big goals, but everyone has to start at square one.

Thanks so much for joining us, Taylor! All of us here at the Michigan Highlanders are wishing the best of luck with your studies, track and field events, and, of course, the Highland Games! 

Congratulations to the Michigan Highlanders’ Own Martin Portko!

Huge congrats to Martin Portko who made it into this year’s Highland Games at the Alma Highland Festival! As this is only Martin’s second year competing in the games, getting chosen was a huge honor for him.


Game Face    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Caber Toss    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Caber Toss    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Nailed It    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Sometimes you just need to celebrate a perfect caber turn with a big ‘ol hug from Eric Spence    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Sheaf Toss    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Sheaf Toss    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


Eric Spence and Martin Portko    –     Photo Credit: Heart and Sword Photography


The Highland Games…in Japan?!


Highland Games competitor, Aaron Ramey, has done something stellar–he organized and competed in the Highland Games… in Japan! And even better, he’s agreed to answer all our nosy questions.

So tell us, what motivated you to bring the Games to Okinawa, Japan?

The motivation to bring the Games to Okinawa was a bit selfish.  I had been training alone and traveling internationally to compete so asked if we could do on here.  That motivation changed as interest grew and people were having more and more fun training.

Who participated? 

The event was a mixture of military members from the Army, Air Force, Marines, Department of Defense Civilians and visitors from off-island like Julian Vandervelde, Kengo Kubota, and Shuichi Sato.


How did you become interested in participating in the Highland Games?

Regular strength training for the sake of strength training was beginning to get stale.  After my readings in strength training progressed from Rippetoe to Pavel, I ended up on Dan John where my interest in training for Shot Put and Discus led to the Highland Games.

How long have you been participating?

I am currently in my third year of competing.

What’s your favorite event, and why?

The Weight Over Bar.  It teaches me to wait.  After using some of the techniques provided by the Pockowski’s in the Contrarian Approach to the Highland Game, my throws become much smoother and less of a struggle.

What’s your least favorite event, and why?

Sheaf.  It is hard to train the Sheaf in Japan and I always have to bum a fork from other people because of my reluctance to bring the fork on an international flight.

Do you have a games-related goal you’re striving for? If so, what is it?

I have one primary goal and that is to meet as many of the great people that are in the Games as I can.  I tend to be hesitant in meeting new people and the Games help break those barriers.  In relation to throwing goals, I only hope that I can be competitive in the A Class.

What’s your best games-related memory?

I am stuck between two.

17 March 2017, I went out to the field for the 1st Annual Torii Station Highland Games to ensure all the footboards were in place, paint was down, and all the implements were in working order.  Some of the competitors were out throwing around the implements with Julian Vandervelde.  Looking around it really hit me that the Games were in Okinawa, Japan.  That feeling progressed as I had to literally shoo competitors off the field so we could all get some dinner.

The second memory was on the evening of the Torii Station Games when everyone had departed, the lights were off, and we were enjoying the night with a couple of beers on the porch of the cabins looking over the beach and the competitor’s field .  The top female competitor of the day, Lauryn Burleson, walked away with some of her fellow Military Police (MP) while Julian Vandervelde and myself relaxed and exchanged stories.  After about 5 minutes, we both heard a distinctive “thud” followed by a celebratory “Woooooooo!!!”  We both looked at each other and wondered if we heard what we thought we heard.  Low and behold, after some investigation we found Lauryn and the MPs were out turning cabers in the dark.  Nothing like turning cabers in the middle of the night and while on break from a patrol.

Do you plan to compete this year? If so, where?

Yes.  After having completed the event in Torii, I have plans to be back in the States for training from April till the beginning of June and hope to attend the Tennessee Smoky Mountain Games, Alma Highland Games in Michigan, and any other Games I can participate in within an acceptable radius.


Assuming you’re not a professional athlete, what do you do when you’re not training?

When I am not training I am spending time with my wife and dog, working, and trying to get in a couple good books on history.  My current profession is a Security Specialist with the U.S. Air Force in Okinawa, Japan.


What are the three things in your life you’re the proudest of?

Marrying my wife, Shoko Tsukuyama.  She tolerates my hobbies and adventures and supports everything that comes along with it.

Working with the U.S. Army Torii Station Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) team here in Japan to put together their first Highland Games.  While it is our first Games, the advice I received from Jerry Bowersox and Mark McVey helped smooth out a rocky first time and provides a solid baseline for future Games.

Winning first at 215 in the 1999 Indiana High School Wrestling State Championships.  It was a cumulation of support, training, and guidance from a wide range of people in my life.

Thanks so much for sharing, Aaron! We’re looking forward to hearing about the 2018 Torii Games – be sure to take lots of pictures! 

St. Patrick’s Day – SCF Fundraiser Wrap-Up

As Josh and Martin clearly demonstrate, nothing says Sparta Celtic Fest Fundraiser and St. Patrick’s Day quite like the kilt-bowling shoes combo!


Josh McAlpine and Martin Portko

Thanks to everyone who came out to Sparta Lanes, over $800 was raised for the 2017 Sparta Celtic Festival! And a lot of fun was had.


Josh, Kelli, and Martin

And the after party at Cellar Brewing Company was fantastic, too. Blarney Castle performed several amazing sets and a great time was had by all! Thanks to everyone who came out to help raise money for an awesome festival!

Christmas Tree Toss Wrap-Up

On January 21st, the Michigan Highlanders had their annual Christmas Tree Toss. Those who were able to attend enjoyed food, friendship, and as always, throwing around heavy things. (And then burning them.)


Just a few of the Michigan Highlanders at the gathering.

Kelli throwing for distance.

Josh and Martin throwing the holiday satchel for height.

Jerry throwing for distance.

Josh throwing Scottish hammer style.

Martin throwing both in the style of Scottish hammer and weight for distance.


Martin and Jeff – marking distance. 

Jeff throwing for distance.


Barb, Linda, Jerry, and Dave. 

Until next year…