This year, we’re celebrating the 72nd Annual Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering!
From our Trustee, Sharon McBride Ritelis
The Seattle Scottish Highland Games Association was formed in 1947 by a local group of prominent Scots. The Association provided this group of fellow Scots a means of keeping their ethnic origin alive as well as stimulating an interest in Scottish dancing, piping, drumming and athletic competition through these Scottish Highland Games.
At this point in time, our main program is the Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games & Clan Gathering held in Enumclaw. Outside of a few donations for medals, trophies and prize monies, the SSHGA funds everything else which runs into quite the chunk of change. We also sponsor the Heather Tartan Ball & Silent Auction on the first Saturday in November. Each year, we provide Scholarships to the 15 Region V Dancers chosen to compete in the National competition and we provide piping and drumming scholarships to the aggregate winners in the Grade IV and V competition at the Games. We also make donations to a number of Scottish organizations and schools each year. We feel truly blessed every year when the Form 990 shows we covered our expenses, because sometimes that is not the case.
Over the past few years, we have worked on a number of levels to change the SSHGA from a (c)(4) to a (c)(3) non-profit, which would enable us to solicit grant money and also allow donations that would be tax exempt for individuals, groups, company employee matching gift programs and corporate grants and sponsorships. When we started this journey back in 2008 we were led to believe we would have to create a newly named entity and then fold the SSHGA into it. We started dragging our feet when we considered we would lose our name recognition and without lengthy explanations our historical presence in the Pacific Northwest. Needless to say thanks to Diana Kildow, we hooked up with corporate attorney David Cullen who told us, changing our name was not necessary. We consider David our champion and with his help we changed our status at the state level and after many meetings and hours of discussions in his office and in Board meetings we filled in the voluminous Form 1043 and submitted it in July 2015. We are so pleased to announce that the SSHGA was recognized and changed over to a 501(c)(3) as of September 4, 2015.
As the sixth oldest continuous Highland Games in the U.S. – we had chugged along for many years at a number of small stadium locations. Our journey to the much larger Enumclaw Expo Center took us through many venues in a number of cities. We were lucky if the Games drew 1,500 our last year in Everett and the Association was about $10,000 in debt to a few members and a couple of local pipe bands, which was a lot of money in 1986. We had been told by the Everett City Council that we would not be able to use the stadium the next year as they were in the process of remodeling for the Aqua Sox baseball team, but they wanted us to come back and did work with us to find a new venue in Everett for that one year. However, once we saw the plan for the stadium remodel we realized that it would knock out the big field where we held the athletic events, which was unacceptable.
Being involved with 4-H at the King County Fairgrounds, my mother and I went out to talk to the Fairgrounds director about moving the Games to Enumclaw. Following that meeting, we went back to the Board of Trustees and convinced them it was time for bold action. Even though we were in debt, we advocated that we should move to Enumclaw, expand to a two-day Games, add food booths and a beer garden, and add some Scottish entertainment. This proposal was met with a number of naysayers who thought Enumclaw was the end of the earth and no one would travel out there! In the end, the Board did vote to make the move and I guess you could say the rest was history. Three couples – Martin and Shirley Kohler, my parents, Barbara and Bob McBride and my husband Rei and I, put up the funds to provide the money float for change over the weekend and pay the bills that required money up front. All our committee chairs agreed to hang on to their expenses until after the Games and hopefully we would all be reimbursed.
Thank God we were young – and I know for a fact, stupid. We had two food booths that first year. The 3 weeks prior to the Games, on Tuesday and Thursday night of each week, we all got together at my house and baked a few thousand scones that went into every available freezer we could find and our Executive Secretary, Candi Burpee and her daughters baked hundreds of ginger snap cookies. Barbara made up buckets of muffin mix so we had fresh baked muffins and scones for breakfast on the Saturday and Sunday morning. We made tea plates, a ploughman’s lunch, lemon and blueberry tarts, we ordered 300 lbs of bangers and Shirley brought her little home griddle to cook them on. And we were such gluttons for punishment that we even made a mince and tattie dinner that we had available for people to purchase at the Ceilidh on Saturday evening.
Oh, and by the way… Did I mention we had 11,000 people that first year? At one point in time on Saturday, the people in line for food serpentined back and forth through the whole Activity Hall and out the north door. Terry Nicholson, whose parents had performed on the stage in Scotland when he was a youngster, started performing some of their skits and jokes with his wife to entertain the folks in line. Shirley Kohler turned around from her griddle at one point and said, “Oh my God… Look at all those people.” Joyce Denton with her head down buttering bread for tea sandwiches like mad said, “Don’t look up, just keep cooking!” That first year we did end up making enough money to pay everyone back and over the next three years paid off the debt that we carried with us from the previous years.
Granted, we no longer run the food booths at the Games – but Barbara and her crew do feed the volunteers on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday evening and Monday. We no longer build the dance platforms and borrow tents from the National Guard. But we do have a lot of stuff that lives 360 days out of the year in four large storerooms in Enumclaw that needs to be loaded, transported to the grounds, distributed, set up and then returned on Monday. The volunteer hours required over our 6 fun-filled days in Enumclaw is immense as we man field set up/take down, the competition venues, our logo wear shops, beer gardens, camping, gates, parking, etc. etc. etc.
There are a number of ways you can assist the Association. We encourage you to become a member, attend meetings and get involved at the planning stages. The monthly newsletter also highlights specific volunteer needs leading up to the Games and over the Games weekend. Volunteering to help with our mother of all committees – field set up/take down would be a godsend.
Volunteering to work a shift the weekend of the Games, or help with our mailings and work parties throughout the year are options. Even by attending the Games and encouraging your family and friends to attend – would aid us – as gate receipts generates the largest piece of our income. And now that we are a 501(c)(3) individuals, groups, companies and corporations may consider donations, as donors can now deduct contributions they make to SSHGA under IRC Section 170. SSHGA is also qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under Section 2005, 2106, or 2511. Also check if your employer has a employee matching gift program, or corporate grants and sponsorships that could benefit SSHGA.
Unlike the mythical city of Brigadoon, the Games do not mysteriously appear on Friday evening and fade back into the mists on Sunday night. It takes a lot of time and effort by some very dedicated people to produce the Games. In closing, I invite you to become a part of our Clan SSHGA volunteer pool and, with your assistance, help us make our Annual Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games & Clan Gathering an amazing celebration of our Scottish culture and heritage!!