SIDNEY — Despite the Shelby County Junior Fair pre-judging week being a little different this year, the overall consensus was that it went well.

“Overall it’s been really good. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of projects that have come in,” Cassie Dietrich, 4-H OSU extension educator, said. “It’s exciting to see that there are kids who did follow through and finish their projects despite everything they have been through. I know for a lot of kids, it was heartbreaking when the Ohio State Fair canceled, but I’m glad those kids followed through and were still willing to do it, despite the fact that this is all the further their projects are going to go.”

One of the main things that changed was the way projects were presented to judges. In previous years, judges remain stationary and are in a larger building, which enables more 4-H participants to move through and see more judges. This year, in an effort to keep things contained and appropriately distanced, participants stayed at one table with their projects displayed and the judges rotated, similar to a science fair. Instead of having individual judging times, participants were assigned blocks of time to limit the number of kids being judged inside the beige building.

“The other way was really fluid, and there was no way to track who had come and gone or had been in the building, so now we can track who was here at what time, that way we know who had been exposed to who in the event that we had to trace something back,” Dietrich said.

Instead of having awards ceremonies in-person this year, they’ve been livestreamed in order to cut down on the number of people gathered around. Anyone who has won an award can return to the fairgrounds to pick up their award.

“We’ve been real specific about how many people are in the building, the junior fair board kids are wiping down the stations between every person, which is not something we’ve ever done before. We’ve always cleaned afterwards, but not cleaned throughout the day,” Dietrich said.

For the pre-judging, Dietrich said that there were less entries this year and that their level of participation was at roughly 40 percent compared to previous years.

“When you do a project, if you take it this year, you can’t take it next year, you have to do something different. So there’s a lot of kids who had started stuff and decided to wait until next year so that they can hopefully take it to the Ohio State Fair,” Dietrich said. “If not, they would have had to come up with something completely new for next year.”

Despite stay-at-home orders forcing junior fair board members to meet virtually and prepare remotely for the fair for four months, Dietrich feels they’ve done a great job.

“They’ve been rock solid. They’ve adapted to the new online system really well, which is exciting. We’ve had some quirky things with it, but we’re figuring it out and they keep a smile on my face. They make it worth it,” Dietrich said.

One of the only complications during the week was changing the way that the pre-fair judging handled awards this year. In the past, the awards system was based on giving the top 10 percent of a class one award, the second 10 percent another award, and so on. With participation being lower this year, there were many cases where there was only one person participating in a class.

“We had to re-evaluate how we do that. That’s been probably the biggest hurdle. It’s something that I knew was coming, but I didn’t want to work on it until I saw who showed up and how that was going to work and pan out. I think for me and the judges, for them to adjust to a different way of doing awards, was a little bit of a [challenge]. It took us about the first two days for us to say, ‘okay, this system works,’ and now we’re good and we’re on a roll,” Dietrich said.

Overall, the brightest part of the week has been seeing the level of participation in the pre-judging and the excitement from kids in 4-H participating in the junior pre-fair despite the ongoing pandemic causing closings, shut-downs, and cancellations of various events and activities that normally take place in the summer.

“I think they’re just excited to be able to do something, because their whole summer — a lot of things have been taken away from them, and I’ve had a lot of parents who have thanked us for, despite everything that’s going on, doing in-person judging,” Dietrich said.

Friday morning’s pre-fair judging focused on woodworking projects from participants ranging from 8 to 18 years old. Chandler Cooper, 10, of Jackson Center, arrived at his second year of pre-fair judging with a hand-crafted bird house that had a cardinal on the front. Chandler chose a cardinal because he sees a lot of cardinals around his home.

“I’m a lot better prepared than last year,” Chandler said. “I like doing [woodworking], but next year I want to do more projects. I chose to make a bird house because one of my other ones is broke, so I figured, why not make another one? It’s better than the last one, because it’s an original bird house, and I put a bird on it this time.”

Elijah Heitkamp, 11, of Fort Loramie, has been participating in the junior fair for four years now. While he originally started out doing crochet projects, he’s presented woodworking projects the last three years and finds he enjoys woodworking more. For this years’ judging, he crafted a night stand.

“I learned more stuff, like pre-drilling and not using nails, just using a drill,” Elijah said. “It’s kind of satisfying, putting the wood together. That’s one of the main parts. And I get to work with my dad.”

Elijah’s mother, Kristin Heitkamp, said one of the challenges in preparing for this year’s pre-fair judging was not having regular 4-H meetings and having to navigate a lot of things on their own.

“The 4-H office was fabulous, and our 4-H adviser was very good and reminded us to do things, but the aspect that it was a lot more on our own shoulders, it was a little bit more difficult, a little bit more challenging,” Heitkamp said. “I thought they did a really good job with trying to be proactive and working things through and making sure we had as much information as we possibly could.”

Two of Heitkamp’s daughters had been preparing projects for Monday’s pre-fair judging, but were unable to participate due to babysitting conflicts. In previous years they had been able to bring the kids they baby-sat to the fair, but with restrictions in place to keep groups small, they had to opt-out. Despite this, Heitkamp says it’s good that Elijah is able to participate.

“In that aspect, I’m sad for them, but I’m really glad that he’s able to still do it and it worked out for us today, schedule-wise, to come,” Heitkamp said. “I’m glad for all the kids, whoever’s participating this year, that they can still participate and it’s still something worthwhile that they’re able to do.”

Caleb Farrier, right, 17, son of Joshua and Haley Farrier, describes to judge Rodney Stephenson, both of Houston, how he made a farm table during Shelby County pre-fair judging at the Shelby County Fair Grounds on Friday, July 24. Farrier used old barn wood for the project which he entered in the woodworking category of “Finishing Up.” Farrier, right, 17, son of Joshua and Haley Farrier, describes to judge Rodney Stephenson, both of Houston, how he made a farm table during Shelby County pre-fair judging at the Shelby County Fair Grounds on Friday, July 24. Farrier used old barn wood for the project which he entered in the woodworking category of “Finishing Up.” Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News
A successful week overall

By Blythe Alspaugh

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Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.