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The 4-H Fair is on, but major changes in store

Blake Drasny walks her dairy starter calf inside the Parkview Huntington Hospital Show Arena on July 24, 2019, during last year’s Huntington County 4-H Fair. Drasny’s calf took champion honors.
Blake Drasny walks her dairy starter calf inside the Parkview Huntington Hospital Show Arena on July 24, 2019, during last year’s Huntington County 4-H Fair. Drasny’s calf took champion honors. TAB file photo.

It won’t be your gran-dma’s, your mom’s or even your kid’s 4-H fair this year in Huntington County.
And, most everyone is not invited to attend, no thanks to restrictions in response to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.

This year’s fair, which runs from July 18 to July 30, will look and run very, very different than years past, says J.P. Pietrowski, the educator in Huntington County’s Youth Development. As it is Pietrowski’s first year in the post, he is undergoing a trial by fire as the county extension office works hard to put together a 4-H fair that is safe for the 820 club members, their families, leaders, judges and staff alike.

“What we’re missing is a sense of normalcy,” he says. “There’s not going to be that sense of relaxation, or a sense of, ‘I can go out and visit with my friends and family and we can have a relaxing week-and-a-half here at the fair, eat the food and do all this other stuff and watch the shows.”

This is what won’t be featured at the fair this year:

• No spectators – Pietrowski stresses that visitors – other than competing 4-H club members’ immediate families, legal guardians or a registered 4-H volunteer – will not be allowed to come to the project show venues this year.

“We’re trying to minimize the amount of people that actually go there because we’re trying to keep the numbers of interactions down because of COVID,” he says. “We just want to get these kids to be able to show and basically judge what they’ve been working all year for.”

Members and their families who do attend are encouraged to practice social distancing during the project entry and show events. Using masks is encouraged but not mandatory.

• No overnight stays – Pietrowski says 4-Hers will bring their animal projects in shortly before the show begins, then take them home after the conclusion of their respective show. No animals will be caged or stalled overnight.

“We’re going to bring the animals here, they’re going to be ready, we’re going to show them, and as soon as they’re done they’re going home,” he adds.
In addition, there will be no camping allowed this year.

• No vendors – There will be no food or other vendors at this year’s fair.

• No dog show – Pietrowski says the 4-H dog clubs opted to bow out of having a show this year, citing a concern of safety for the animals and for the people, including the 4-H club members.

“For the dog shows, they practice throughout the year. They socialize with each other, and in a sense everybody’s has been quarantined but they have not been able to have that interaction,” he says. “It’s better to not risk it, and the risk of a kid getting bit or another dog getting bit. The risk outweighs the benefits, so that’s why they opted to cancel that this year.”

Pietrowski said members can still turn in posters and record sheets and receive credit for their project.

“You don’t have to display or exhibit or show an animal to complete the project,” he explains. “As long as you complete the record sheet you’ve completed the project.”

• No royalty contest – This year, the pageant will become a scholarship contest, leaving out the royal duties during the fair, Pietrowski says. The scholarship committee will judge contestants based on their application, essay and 4-H record.

• No Supreme Showmanship, Spirit Night or Parade of Champions – Pietrowski says taking different days to bring back livestock on different days for the supreme showmanship contest is too much hassle to deal with this year.

Spirit Night and the Parade of Champions will also be missing from the schedule. However, 4-H scholarships and awards will be presented to club members on Wednesday, July 29.
4-Hers who reached their 10-year anniversary in the program will be given yard signs they can decorate in honor of their accomplishment. They will also be listed in the 4-H edition of The TAB on July 16, along with graduating members.

• No “live” auction – The fair board voted to cancel the auction this year, Pietrowski says. However, after a lengthy board meeting on June 30, members voted to hold a “premium auction” online after the animal shows have concluded. 4-Hers will only be allowed to enter one animal in this year’s “sale.” Pietrowski says it will be more of a donation-style event than an auction in which one person wins with the highest bid.

“Say there’s one child that I want to support, so I’m going to put $25 down on this child,” he explains. “Then if you wanted to support the same child, you would put $50 down. So that kid would actually get $75. It’s more like a donational thing to the kid. And no animals are actually being sold.”

Pietrowski says the event will not be livestreamed, but conducted online by Breeders World Auction Services. The date of the auction has not yet been announced but details are expected soon, he says.

What you will see at this year’s fair includes:

• Virtual streaming of the shows – Even though spectators are discouraged from attending the live show, they can still view the animal shows from home via a livestream which will be provided by Huntington University.

A crew from the university will man two cameras to get multiple-angled shots of all the show ring action.

“Being a 4-Her myself, where you family comes out to see what you’ve done all year long, it’s so nice for the kids to show what they’ve done,” Pietrowski says. “It’s just nice to be able to have that broadcast, where anybody who’s interested in seeing it can actually view it.”

Links to access the livestreamed events will be announced once they are finalized, Pietrowski says.
• New venues for non-animal projects – This year, the 4-H fashion revue and 4-H consumer clothing judging will take place on Tuesday, July 21, in the First Merchants Bank Heritage Hall and Larry Keiffer Family Living Building.

Other non-animal projects will check in at the Poultry Pavilion or the Larry Keiffer Family Living Building and then be judged in the First Merchants Bank Heritage Hall. However, this year 4-Hers will not be allowed in the building while the “closed” judging takes place and they will not meet with the judges to discuss their individual projects.

Again, Pietrowski says social distancing, health concerns and safety precautions are the factors and a top priority in putting the new procedures in place.

“We’re trying to organize it and break it up to where we can organize it and meet all these requirements, and still give every kid the option to do this,” he adds.

• “Virtual Fair” Option – Pietrowski says 4-Hers will also be offered the option to show their projects virtually this year. He says if any members do not feel comfortable showing in person they may opt to exhibit their animal virtually through the fair entry system.

“They will upload photographs of their animal and that will work as kind of a last-ditch effort,” he says. “For us to do an in-person show, we would have to actually be at a Stage 5 of Gov. Holcomb’s plan for us to do the show. We’re making the virtual show optional for the kids because I don’t want to force them, and say, ‘You need to register for virtual. If they want to register for virtual they can; otherwise, they don’t have to.”

Pietrowski adds that if the state becomes demoted from Stage 5 to Stage 4 during the fair they can simply switch to the virtual option as a backup.

But despite all the changes, Pietrowski is also excited about the fair coming up and says it is still going to be a lot of fun.

“This is going to be different this year,” he says. “But, I mean, everything has been different this year. COVID has affected everything and every aspect …

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think if everybody pitches in and works, I think it will pay off and we will actually make it work.”