Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games

The quaint community of Enumclaw, Washington is the scene this weekend for the annual Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering. 2012 Chieftain of the Games – and long-time Seattle Scottish Highland Games Association member and past-President – Sharon McBride Ritelis, gives us the details!

Tell us about your own heritage.
I am Scots/Irish with my maiden name of McBride and my mother’s family name of Lumsden. My husband Reinis Ritelis was born in Latvia so we have a fair mix of heritage in this household.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
As kids my 5 brothers and I were very involved in pipe bands and highland dance. Some of us played pipes, some of us drums, and some of us danced. My mother has been on the Board of the SSHGA as a Trustee for 50 years. Needless to say when we weren’t competing we were runners for the competition scoring or doing any other job that mom told us to do! My mother is still on the Board and all my brothers are still involved in the Games as well.

What are the challenges of being involved?
We are a non-profit, all volunteer organization with no paid positions. Finding enough people willing to dedicate many hours of time throughout the year and the weekend of the Games is our biggest challenge.

What are the rewards?
On Saturday and Sunday we have massed pipe bands at the end of the day. When they play Amazing Grace we have a dove release that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house. The number of people at the end of the day… whether Scottish, Americans of Scottish heritage or not that come up with tears streaming down their face and thank all of us for presenting this celebration of Scotland.. That makes all the long hours and hard work throughout the year and that weekend fade away and renews our resolve to start it all over again!

Why is it an important event for the community there?
With the faltering economy I have had people over the last few years whose finances would not allow a vacation tell me they were saving up their extra money to come to the Games because no matter what the circumstances they did not want to give up attending. So many people tell us they feel at home and accepted as being part of a family. And being with a community that feels like family is a good thing in this day and age.

What can attendees expect this year?
New for this year is a Drum Major Competition and workshop. We have a great line up of Celtic entertainers on 6 stages this year. Our Athletic competition has a full complement of Elite athletes that every year set new Games records and National records. The pipe band competition is always stellar and the Grade I match up of Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band and Simon Fraser University Pipe Band is always fierce with both bands leaving to compete at the World’s in Glasgow a few weeks after our Games.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
I belong to the Seattle Caledonian group, attend most of the Games in Washington State, attend all the Tartan Balls and Burn’s Dinners throughout the Greater Seattle area and there’s a lot!

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
I make an effort and encourage others to go to every event we possibly can. Through paying my money, attending and participating I feel I help these events perpetuate for the future! We just need more folks to have that attitude too or these events will start going away and that is a sad thing in my opinion.

What can we be doing better?
Encouraging folks to volunteer is key to making the Games viable for the future… and with enough volunteers bigger and better would be a possibility. Ideas abound but without volunteers a lot of things can’t get off the ground. So grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the Games and sharing their Scottish heritage. Parents willing to take their kids to piping, drumming or dancing lessons. Making the effort to volunteer as a family would be an amazing gift for your family and also your community!

What does the future look like for the Games?
I think it is a bright future. As the 6th oldest continuous Highland Games in the U.S. we continue to raise the funds necessary to fund the Games and our other programs throughout the year. Our volunteer pool could be more vibrant and younger but over the past few years we have had a number of generational volunteers that remind me of my family with grandparents, parents and kids all chipping in to make the magic happen!