Sportsmanship shines through during champion showman title competitions
By Kim Walter
CLEARBROOK -- On Friday morning, six Frederick County youth proved that there's more to showing livestock than having a love of animals.
Three junior and three senior members of the county's 4-H Livestock Club pulled out everything they've learned over the past few years to compete for the overall champion showman title at the Frederick County Fair.
Both categories of competitors were made up of youth who had already stood out in the week's hog, sheep and beef cattle events.
Participants arrived at the fair's show barn bright and early Friday morning to begin prepping their respective animals for the show. This included feeding, cleaning, and bushing them, and making sure that all nine of the animals had some down time before the main event.
Jacob Gilley of Madison County was the only judge for all three livestock categories. He reminded competitors after each section to maintain eye contact, and try not to lose their cool if faced with a stubborn animal.
"You can be as prepared as possible, but if you're cattle or hog isn't feeling it, that can create a major problem," he said. "The key is staying calm and not outwardly showing any frustration."
Each of the participants had to lead the animals around a ring, and then line them up in a position that best displayed the livestock's best attributes.
Gilley approached every contestant during the event and posed industry-specific questions about each animal in order to judge their overall knowledge.
"To me, anyone can show an animal," he said. "I wanted to test their awareness of what it takes to be in the industry ... current challenges, issues, things like that. I also wanted to see if they had any innovative ideas to solve some of those problems."
For instance, during the hog show, Gilley asked what major challenges are facing the industry, both as a producer and a consumer.
"I could kind of tell right away who was prepared for that part of things," he said.
As the senior competitors led their cattle around the ring, one animal in particular consistently stopped every few steps. Even as the leader tugged on its harness, the large animal stood firmly in its spot.
In times like this, sportsmanship shined through.
Kyley Clevenger, the Livestock Club leader, said she noticed a few participants giving a slight shove or push to move the uncooperative animals along.
"That's what they do," she said. "These kids are great individuals, but they're also very close friends who support each other."
The camaraderie was obvious even after the senior and junior supreme showmanship champions were announced.
Cody Boden, 16, and George Sfarnas, 13, took home the top title in their divisions. As soon as their names were called, the other contestants didn't hesitate to smile and shake their hands.
"It's just friendly competition," said Cody, a student at James Wood High School. "We learn from each other all the time, and it's always good to see someone succeed."
Cody, who has been involved with the 4-H and showing livestock for eight years, said he hopes to go to school to be livestock competition judge. It's like a family tradition, he said, since his parents and siblings also have competed.
Growing up on a local farm, Cody has always enjoyed being around animals, but he said competing takes a lot of commitment.
"I've showed up to competitions as early as 3 a.m. to start the day's work and get my animals ready," he said. "Showing animals is like a full-time job, but I just happen to love it."
George has been involved with 4-H for three years, and plans to keep competing until he ages out of the program. Being home schooled, George said he was able to spend a little extra time with the animals.
"Being in 4-H is a great educational experience," he said. "And now I got to see my hard work pay off, and I'm all smiles."
Gilley said he loves judging competitions like the one at the Frederick County Fair because it reminds him of his days in 4-H. He, like many youth who participate in 4-H, didn't grow up on a farm.
"You absolutely don't have to have that background to benefit from 4-H and competitions just like this," he said. "It's great to see kids working with their peers and doing something they love that will impact their careers and lives."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org