Dudes, forget the surf – California now has its very own shinty coach

Michael Bentley travelled to Motherwell to gain his coaching certificate
Michael Bentley travelled to Motherwell to gain his coaching certificate
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IT CROSSED the Atlantic with the first Scottish settlers and was played throughout North America until the early 1900s, before dying out as a sport.

However, far from the muddy Highland fields where it has its origins, Americans are picking up their sticks again to keep shinty alive in the United States.

Michael Bentley playing shinty on Half Moon Bay in California

Michael Bentley playing shinty on Half Moon Bay in California

Now, a Californian man has become the first non-UK resident to receive a shinty coaching certificate.

Michael Bentley, co-founder of the Northern California
Camanachd Club, travelled 6,000 miles to Scotland in an effort to enhance his understanding of the sport and pass it on to other enthusiasts in the US.

Shinty virtually died out in the US at the start of the 20th century, having inspired the
national sport of ice hockey, and went almost unplayed for 100 years.

It enjoyed a revival in the mid-1980s, led by Scottish Americans who established the first modern club in northern California.

The last decade saw the creation of a US Camanachd Association and an increasing number of clubs travelling to Scotland to play.

There are now clubs in Washington, Oregon and North Carolina, with others set to be established in Utah, Alabama, Louisiana and Arizona.

Mr Bentley, 50, who coaches the San Francisco Bay club he helped to set up in 2001, travel­led to Ravenscraig Sport Centre in Motherwell, where he was coached by experts, including Kingussie talisman and Camanachd Association national development officer, Ronald Ross.

He is now the holder of a Level One UK Coaching Certificate, which is held by some of the top shinty sportsmen in Scotland.

Speaking from his home in Berkeley on San Francisco Bay, Mr Bentley said: “Going over the approach to coaching was probably the most important aspect personally.”

He added: “It was also very helpful to be able to talk with other coaches and to observe coaching in action.

“We are trying to get a First Shinty programme off the ground here, and speaking with coaches who have experience working with children – and their parents – has definitely been helpful.

“The most obvious question we get asked is, how did shinty come to Silicon Valley?

“Although Northern California Camanachd was officially founded in 2001, its roots go back 20 years before that. Shinty first came to light in the San Francisco Bay area through the activities of a small group of northern Californians who shared an interest in Scottish culture and history. Inspired by a brief but intriguing description of Hogmanay shinty in IF Grant’s book Highland Folkways, we made a few camans (shinty sticks), carving them from branches in the same way our ancestors might have done.

“Our rules were mostly pulled out of thin air at the start and our game had only a marginal relationship with shinty as it is currently played in Scotland, but a seed had been planted in our collective imagination.”

He made his first trip to Scotland in 1983 to find out more about the game. He added: “I very definitely feel that I’m involved in a unique part of Scottish culture. I get to interact with people I probably never would have met otherwise.

“I really like the sport. It’s a real community.”

Mr Bentley is now working on developing the US Camanachd Association, with a focus on providing resources for people who want to start shinty clubs in
the US.

He was presented his certificate by Camanachd Association chief operating officer Torquil Macleod at the organisation’s HQ in Inverness.

Mr Macleod said: “Michael is a tremendous ambassador for shinty, doing a huge amount to promote and develop the sport in the US.”