Three traits define the Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games: Dedication, family and kilts

The 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games.

Dedication, family and kilts. Those are three defining traits of the Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games at the Radford Highlanders Festival, set for Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Bisset Park.

Chad Clark, now the athletic director of the Highland Games, keeps his focus on the history of the Raisbeck Memorial Games.

The Highland Games originated in Ireland around 2000 BC and are held around the world in celebration of Scottish and Celtic culture, pre-dating even the Olympic Games.

The continued success of the Highland Games today can be attributed to the combined efforts of many people. Raisbeck, who helped start the Radford Highlanders Festival, served as the athletic director for 10 years. Dave Strunk, longtime friend of Raisbeck, took over as head of the games until 2015, naming the event “Raisbeck Memorial Scottish Games” in memory of Raisbeck.

To further honor Raisbeck, the sheaf towers used in today’s games are the original pieces that he made, keeping the history of the Highland Games alive. “All these other people before us worked really hard to get where we are now,” Clark said.

For Clark, the Highlanders Festival is a trip back to where his Highland Games journey began when he was 33. He now spends the majority of the year on the road, traveling abroad to locations such as Prague, the Czech Republic and Kurdistan. Clark has also judged the World Master’s Highland Games Championship in Iceland and considers it an honor to be able to participate at an international level.

Jonathan Harding participates in the 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games

Jonathan Harding participates in the 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games.

Clark, who has familial ties to the Radford family – his brother attended the university – jumped at the offer to develop a deeper connection to the community. Now 45, Clark is in charge of the very games at which he began his career.

“These events don’t just happen by accident,” Clark said. “They happened because of people putting in years of dedication to the sport. You can’t help but feel that sense of family here.”

An athlete participates in the sheaf toss.

The experience Clark brings – which includes competing and judging at an international level – helps him fine-tune the games at the Radford Highlanders Festival.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve the games based on what I’ve seen elsewhere,” he said. “I’m always keeping an open mind – and I always put athletes first.”

Lawrence Rice, a water plant superintendent in the City of Radford, helps out with the Highlanders Festival. At last year’s games, he organized getting the athletes lunch from Macado’s, event T-shirts and prizes, which included gift cards.

“It’s all about creating memories for the athletes,” Clark said. “The athletes are not an afterthought at these games, but rather a real, true part of the festival.”

Some of the changes implemented are aimed at increasing the competitiveness amongst the athletes, including modifying the competitive divisions. At the Radford Highlanders Games, athletes are placed in one of four divisions: A, B, master’s and women’s.

“The athletes put in a lot of work, time and effort,” Clark said. “By the time the Radford Highlanders Festival rolls around, some have already participated in 12 to 15 games.”

Highland Games consists of seven events in a specific order: the stone, similar to shot put; heavy weight for distance, which is throwing a 56-pound weight; lightweight for distance, which is throwing a 28-pound weight; the Scottish hammer throw; the caber toss; the sheaf toss; and the waiver bar, which involves throwing a 56-pound weight over a bar.

Sam Parlow participates in the 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games

Sam Parlow participates in the 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games.

Clark said that the caber toss is a crowd favorite.

“Out of all the strength sports I’ve ever done – and trust me, I’ve done them all – there is nothing as cool as turning a caber,” Clark said. “You hear that cheer and that buzz. It’s just the greatest feeling in the world of strength sports.”

Athletes don’t just step onto the field to throw, but put in countless hours of practice prior to the events, Clark said.

Mike Kang participates in the 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games.
Mike Kang participates in the 2016 Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games.

“It’s not just hours in the gym, pretty much everyone there is going to be a strength athlete, so it’s hours put in in practice fields in the middle of nowhere either by yourself or with a couple of buddies, practicing throw after throw after throw,” he said.

All the travel, time and dedication to Highland Games gives Clark the experience and knowledge of how to make each event better. In his second year at the helm of the Tom Raisbeck Memorial Games, Clark continues upon refinements implemented in his first year.

The 21st Radford Highlanders Festival is on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Bisset Park in Radford, Virginia and is a partnership between Radford University and the City of Radford. To learn more, go to or search “Radford Highlanders Festival” on Facebook.

Sep 12, 2017
Max Esterhuizen