FERNDALE - For the first time, professional athletes will test their strength and skill at the 53rd annual Bellingham Scottish Highland Games this weekend.
The games run Saturday, June 1, and Sunday, June 2, at Hovander Homestead Park.
They will feature athletic and dance competitions, a wide variety of food vendors and arts, live music, and crafts as well as an abundance of bagpipes and kilts.
"It's amazing. The Bellingham Highland Games Association is absolutely tickled that the athletes are coming," said Bret Lathrop, athletic director for the games, of the 10 pro athletes who will be muscling it out at Hovander.
Those 10 - half from the U.S., the other half from Canada - will compete for prizes as well as bragging rights in a border battle royale.
"It will be a great show for the crowd because it will show the extra levels of competitive" abilities the pros have, Lathrop said.
The Bellingham Highland Games will be just the second in the state to have a pro division, according to Lathrop. The other is in Enumclaw.
Add another 60 amateur athletes competing this weekend, and the crowd can expect to see plenty of throwing in Ferndale.
Called Scottish heavy events, these athletic competitions are centuries old and remain a popular part of Celtic festivals in Scotland, Europe, the U.S. and even Asia, organizers said.
The events include throwing hammers and weights for distance and height. There's also the caber toss, which is a pole that can weigh 70 to more than 100 pounds and is 17 to 20 feet that is carried by a running athlete who heaves it end over end in a feat that measures ... accuracy.
There's also something akin to the modern day shot-put and the sheaf, or throwing a heavy burlap bag - 10 pounds for women, either 16 or 20 pounds for men - as high as possible using a pitchfork.
Among the pro competitors who will be in Ferndale this weekend is Greg Bell, Western Washington University alum who now lives in Issaquah.
"I think it's fantastic," Bell said of the new pro division.
"I've been to Highland games competitions around the world and in the U.S. and the Bellingham Highland Games brings in a big enough crowd" to have pro throwers there, he added.
Amateurs will throw on Saturday and Sunday. The pros will compete only on Saturday. The athletic competitions begin at 9 a.m. both days.
IF YOU GO
What: The 53rd annual Bellingham Scottish Highland Games.
When: Piping and drumming competitions begin at 8:30 a.m. and heavy athletics events start at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 1. Heavy athletics start at 9 a.m. Sunday. Dance competitions begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
Where: Hovander Homestead Park, 5299 Nielsen Ave. in Ferndale.
Cost: Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for seniors and children.
Details: See a full schedule of events at bhga.org.
Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.