Front Porch: Knee judging caps day of Highland fun

THURSDAY, AUG. 11, 2011

I’ve always been a hands-on journalist, because I believe the best reporting comes from actively experiencing community life. I’ve sat on a $600 toilet, flown in a biplane and fired fancy handguns, all to accurately report a story. But Saturday, I took hands-on to a whole new level when I was invited to judge the Knobbly Knees and Bonny Knees contests at the Spokane Highland Games.

For more than 50 years, folks from around the region, and even the world, have gathered at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center to celebrate all things Scottish. The heavy athletics competition anchors the annual event. Kilt-clad contestants throw hammers and toss cabers among other traditional contests.

Pipe bands and highland dancers add musical flair, and savory haggis (sheep organs mixed with onion, oatmeal and suet) tempts brave-hearted foodies.

Organizers strive to keep the games fresh and exciting. Last year, they introduced the Pull for the Haggis, a tug of war between Irish and Scots. And this year, co-chairs Steven Schneider and Ruby Devine decided to launch a contest for fearless fellows with nice or knobbly knees. For those more proud of their lower limbs they also included the Stout Calves, competition.

Schneider explained the events. “Bonny Knees is a popular contest at Highland Games and Knobbly Knees is a popular seaside event in Scotland. The precision event of Stout Calves gives the best ankle-to-calves ratio the prize, so you don’t have to be a caber tossing gorilla to enter.”

As the time for the contests drew near, I have to admit my own knees were knocking. Schneider’s reading of the rules (which he had drafted) didn’t do much to alleviate my nerves. Apparently, haggis doping is a huge concern. The rules state: “No haggis taken internally for at least 24 hours before contests.” That was fine, but part two of the rule gave me pause: “Haggis may be applied topically, if desired for aesthetic purposes.”

I was relieved when Schneider addressed my biggest concern. He read, “The actual or implied condition of ‘going regimental’ is prohibited so as not to sway or confuse feminine judges in close proximity to kilts.”

Whew! The idea of accidentally discovering the answer to the what’s-under-the-kilt question had been worrying me. Especially, since I’d be judging the Knobbly Knees contest blindfolded.

Schneider then informed me of my duties. “The judge shall touch the knees of each contestant for a maximum of 10 seconds and then consider objective knobblyness and subjective aesthetic knobblyness.”

I took a breath and surveyed the stout-hearted band of Scotsmen who’d gathered near the beer tent, and willingly bared their knees for my appraisal. I’m not a journalist who’s afraid to get her hands dirty, but I was cheered to note that none of the contest had chosen to apply haggis to their limbs.

Devine secured a blindfold over my eyes, and it was all hands on deck, as I found myself knee-deep in men’s knees.

Hairy knees, smooth knees, bumpy knees, and shapeless knees. How would I ever choose the Knobbliest Knees? And is knobbly even a word? In the end, the subjective aesthetics of a pair of smooth, baby-soft knees was the winner, hands down.

But my work wasn’t done. Devine and Schneider unfurled a long length of tartan and had the contestants stand behind the makeshift barrier, so that only their knees were exposed. My task? Choose the bonniest (prettiest) knees at the games.

It didn’t take long. I had a knee jerk reaction to a pair that were a work of art – literally. The winning knees had word “pick” written on the right knee and “me” on the left. Who am I to deny such brazenness?

By this time, all the legs began to blur and my own were growing shaky, so I declined to judge the Stout Calves contest. Especially, when I heard the terms ratio, circumference and division. I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

I found my favorite knees in the crowd, which happened to belong to my husband, Derek. We thought we’d seen everything the games had to offer, but as we strolled through the throng, I spotted something I’d never seen before.

Firemen in kilts!

Several members of the Spokane County Firefighters Pipes and Drums group stood watching the pipe band competition. “Go ask them to pose for a photo,” Derek urged. “You know you want to.”

After 25 years of marriage my husband knows me well. He snapped a picture of me and a couple of the guys and said, “I think we can go home, now.”

He was right. It had been a long exciting day. In fact, this year’s Highland Games left me positively weak at the knees.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Her previous columns are available online at www.spokesman.com/columnists.

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