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Scotland Through Shinty Eyes
While shinty is certainly a Highland tradition born and bred, the game has spread to the four corners of the globe as Scots settled outside their homeland. The sport has not often survived in its original form, but it has given shape to a number of games and pastimes, directly or indirectly, such as shinny or ice hockey. In America shinty proper is now being played by a handful of clubs. And when these Americans return to Scotland, they have a chance to see the country in a unique way, through "shinty eyes," if you will.
Northern California Camanachd co-founder Elheran Francis comments, "It's great because when we go to Scotland we immediately have something in common with people there."
"Being welcomed into the shinty community has given me many opportunities I never would have had otherwise," Michael Bentley adds. "As I have gotten more involved with the sport, taking the coaching courses and participating in other events, I have continually been given the chance to see Scotland in ways beyond being a tourist. Every trip I look forward to catching up with my friends, sharing the news and hearing some stories."
For some the connection has to do with their heritage, but for others it's about the sport itself.
"I find the challenges of shinty to be really interesting," says Colleen McAvoy. who has traveled with the club on several trips. "It's different from other sports, but incorporates some familiar elements from sports that I'd previously played."
For Don Magarian, one of the original California shinty boys, his involvement in shinty and Scottish dancing came from something even simpler.
" I was attracted to the sound of bagpipes... I guess everything else followed from that!"
With the organizing of an England versus USA shinty international, a new perspective has been added for at least one NCC member.
"Having come from England to the states about 16 years ago, this is going to be a really tough one for me," admits Ruth Mikusko. "I've spent all my shinty career playing for Northern California Camanachd, but I'm kind of wishing that I could be playing for the English team in the St. Andrews Sixes."
"My mom's family originally comes from Cornwall in the Redruth area, and I would love to be playing with that Cornish team."
Of course a trip to Scotland offers a lot of attractions beyond shinty.
"I want to see Loch Ness," says Lily Huang.
"And Edinburgh and Hadrian's Wall," adds Alex Pomorski.
Lily and Alex, recently engaged, have only been playing shinty for six months, but are looking forward to traveling to Scotland when the team returns in the future. Perhaps for their honeymoon?
"I don't know," Lily laughs, "can't we go somewhere warm? Warm and tropical?"
The Californians are hoping to bring a little sunshine with them, if not warm weather, but know how changeable conditions can be.
"We've played in rain and wind before, in fact there was definitely some boating involved when we played on Lewis," jokes Bentley. "I remember one afternoon in Beauly when we were working out at Braeview Park... we got blazing sun, magnificent clouds, sideways rain and hail within about a 20 minute span... felt like I'd really accomplished something when I finished and wrung out my shirt!"
The American and English shinty clubs have certainly accomplished something now, with the first shinty international match featuring two non-Scottish teams. Can a World Cup of shinty be far behind?
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.