US Shinty travels to St. Andrews (4/16/2013)

Next weekend will find a group of Americans in St. Andrews, Scotland. Nothing unusual in that, there are always plenty of visitors to the spiritual home of golf. These travelers, however, will be there for another Scottish sporting tradition, shinty!

What is it about shinty that inspires such an adventure?

"I really enjoy the camaraderie that exists within the shinty community," says Elheran Francis. "It's great because when we go to Scotland we immediately have a rapport with people in the shinty community, having something in common with people there."

The five players traveling from the US will meet up with several Americans who are currently residing in Scotland. The group will be further augmented by a few Scottish friends with whom they have a historic connection. And there is a special twist for three of the Americans.

"Michael, Elheran and I are three of the original California shinty players," Don Magarian, who currently lives in Washington state and had flown down specially for this training session, stated.

"Our team is actually, in truth, a Californian team with all but one of the players members of Northern California Camanachd," said NCC and US Camanachd President Michael Bentley. "And Don is a native Californian, even though he lives out of state now. We invited members of other clubs to join us, but logistics didn't work out for this year, especially with the date change of the St. Andrews weekend."

Currently there are five active shinty clubs in the US - two in California, as well as clubs in Oregon, Massachussets and North Carolina.

"It's important for people to understand that it is very early days here for assembling anything like a true national team," Bentley continued. "US Camanachd operates largely as an online entity, though we do have our non-profit status. I want it known that there are lots of other folks in America working at spreading the word about shinty, and I look forward to seeing more and more of them able to participate in international events."

Sunday's training session involved the traveling side playing together against the rest of the NCC players, with breaks for coaching points. This followed on from the previous weekend's scrimmage against members of the Central California Camanachd Club.

After the session Magarian mused on the differences between what he had seen during training and those early days of Californian shinty in the 1980s

"Well, we know the rules and we have the right sticks... it's played properly here now. I mean, before it was just whatever we thought was right, the goal was a stick in the ground, or a log. Back in the day whatever branch we could cut off an oak tree was what we used for a caman."

The coming trip will also feature an interesting historical moment when two non-Scottish sides play a camanachd international, certainly a wonderful milestone for a trio of Californians 30+ years into their shinty odyssey. And are the Americans looking forward to the trip and to playing shinty in Scotland?

Magarian answered without hesitation, "Oh yes, it's the chance of a lifetime!"

The England v. USA match will take place at 5PM on Saturday 20 April, and the St. Andrews Sixes will take place from 11AM on Sunday 21 April, 2013.