Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Bethesda lawyer has announced jousting contests for 25 years

Roger A. Hayden II

For four hours at a recent Barnesville country fair, Roger A. Hayden II stood on a wooden podium bellowing the same line into a microphone dozens of times:

“Prepare to charge, Sir Knight!”

Hayden, a partner at the Bethesda-based Pasternak & Fidis, P.C., was introducing riders and their horses in a jousting tournament, where competitors gallop down an 80-yard track trying to catch suspended metal rings on a long spear, called a lance.

Every year, Saint Mary’s Parish & Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima — the church that Hayden, 55, has belonged to since childhood — hosts a festival with games, crafts and food. It’s a celebration of the community spirit that characterizes the area and has helped define Hayden’s life.

The Western Maryland Jousting Club sponsored the tournament, which was a main attraction at the church’s 136th Annual Chicken Dinner and Fair on July 30, Hayden said.

Jousting was named the official state sport in 1962 and still commands a lot of attention in Southern Maryland, where riders try to preserve the spectacle of medieval tournaments.

“That’s where the jousters live,” Hayden said of upper Montgomery County. “When you’re in a rural church like Saint Mary’s, jousting has its own force in the community — it’s an institution.”

Though Hayden doesn’t actually compete — he tried it during his teens and early 20s, but found it required too much of a time commitment — he has called tournaments across the state and elsewhere, including on the National Mall, for about 25 years. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Roger Hayden Sr., who introduced him to the sport and calling when Hayden was barely a toddler at the same church-sponsored fair he still looks forward to every summer.

“[My father] spent all those years calling and supporting the church — not unlike I do,” he said. “I took over for my father, and when he passed away in 1981, the pastor there named [the top competitive class] trophy in honor of him.”

Hayden grew up on his family’s Christmas tree farm in Poolesville, where his deep appreciation for tradition and family-first mindset originated. Now Hayden brings his own three children to the festival and encourages them to get involved.

“Jousting is definitely a generational, family thing, although I think they’ve been very successful in attracting new and younger riders to come in over time,” he said. “… Under the right circumstances I’ll ask someone if they know what the state sport is, and it’s seldom that people know. They’ll kind of raise their eyebrow and usually relate to seeing it at a Renaissance festival, but that’s usually re-enactments where they are actually charging at each other.”

Hayden, intrigued by jousting’s rich history in Maryland, said he’ll sometimes tell the audience about it during lulls in competitions. He studied English history at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., but said he always wanted to become a lawyer. After graduating from George Mason University School of Law and then working as counsel for an insurance company and a bank, Hayden joined Pasternak & Fidis in 1996.

He didn’t have to abandon his interest in history as a lawyer, however.

“The whole English background from where we come really appeals to my sense of romanticism and ties in with the roots of our very law … we are based on English law, especially our notions of equity,” he said. “I deal with equity and common law — it’s not uncommon for me to draw on cases that were rendered at the turn of the development of our country. That’s how old the law is. Our sense of law all comes out the forests of Wessex and our English roots and heritage.”

Although he said the area has become more suburban, more than 50 years after his first competition, Hayden’s still going back.

“I do see through rose-colored glasses,” Hayden said. “There’s a lot of equestrian sports, but my experience with this group is that they are very family-oriented and family-invested, something I have rarely seen in other groups.”

For among the knights, maids and steeds at jousting tournaments, chivalry is not dead.