SIDNEY – Plans are underway to host Shelby County’s junior fair events this summer even though the Shelby County Fair has been canceled for the first time in 160 years.
The Shelby County Fair Board announced Wednesday night that this year’s fair has been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe it’s the last thing anybody on the board wanted to do,” Shelby County Fair Board President Eric Garber said. “It’s devastating for all 28 board members to make that decision, and it was a very tough decision to make.
“We waited until the last minute that we thought we could pull off a successful fair.”
With less than two months until the 160th annual Shelby County Fair was to begin, Garber said, the board had to make a decision on the fair’s status. And with Gov. Mike DeWine’s ban on mass gatherings still in place, it decided it wasn’t feasible to proceed with a full fair this year.
Still, hope remains that junior fair events will go on as scheduled.
“It’s a lot to process, but I’m happy that the Senior Fair Board was willing to consider allowing us to still have the 4-H, FFA and Girl Scout events as we have in the past and the kids get to exhibit their projects as long as we can make it work with the Responsible Restart Ohio guidelines,” Shelby County Extension Educator Cassie Dietrich said.
Plans for safely hosting junior fair events are still in the early stages, but both Dietrich and Garber said they’re committed to hosting them this summer. By Thursday morning, Dietrich had scheduled meetings with the Shelby County 4-H Advisory Board, Shelby County 4-H Foundation Board and Shelby County Junior Fair Board to work on plans.
“They are ready to rally and make this happen,” Dietrich said of the 33 teens on the Junior Fair Board. “We’re going to try to make it the best experience we can given the circumstances we are being dealt.”
Nothing has been decided yet, but Dietrich said several changes will be needed to proceed with junior fair events.
There will be limits on the number of people in barns, buildings and show arenas. There likely will be fewer exhibitors in arenas at any given time, which could lead to longer shows and would require adjustments to schedules. And face coverings could be mandatory.
“We just don’t know yet,” Dietrich said of the adjustments that might be needed. “Again, a lot of it comes back to what is that Responsible Restart Ohio plan and conversations we have with our local health department and what we’re allowed to do.”
Another challenge will be financing the junior fair events, Dietrich said, as revenue from rides, food and attractions usually support the junior fair.
“Without that portion of the fair, we have to come up with the money to pay for the junior fair,” Dietrich said. “So we’re going to be doing a lot of fundraising, and we’re hoping the community rallies around the kids.”
Garber has reached out to the Shelby County 4-H Foundation and other organizations that support the fair in hopes of raising money to finance this summer’s junior fair events. He’s confident the community will come up with the funds to allow the junior fair events to proceed.
“What better time to use money than now?” he said. “Because the Shelby County 4-H Foundation is for the kids.”
With its cancellation, Shelby County joined more than a dozen county fairs throughout Ohio – and the Ohio State Fair – in canceling events this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like Shelby County, most of the county fairs still hope to host junior fair events. Garber and Dietrich have been in contact with other leaders throughout the state to coordinate plans.
Thursday afternoon the state released guidelines that were compiled by an advisory group led by former state Rep. Jim Buchy, of Greenville. The guidelines allow fair boards and local health departments to make decisions about junior fairs proceeding in their communities.
“We’ve asked them to come together to provide a safe outlet for kids to participate in limited livestock shows, showmanship, skillathons, barn or building activities, the auction, as well as the non-livestock exhibits and exhibitions,” DeWine said.
The guidelines allow junior fairs to proceed while focusing on maintaing social distancing, limiting crowds and ensuring health of everyone involved.
“We hope, and I certainly hope, that every fair will be able to find a way, maybe unique to their particular fair, to be able to allow 4-H, FFA and that junior fair, which is really at the heart and soul of the county fairs,” DeWine said.
The next Shelby County Fair Board meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 17 at the fairgrounds. The meeting will be hosted outside, in an arena or in a barn to allow for proper social distancing.
Dietrich and Garber anticipate plans for this year’s junior fair events will be finalized at the June 17 meeting.
And the fair board will look forward to 2021 when it plans to return with a full fair schedule.
“We absolutely do not want to continue just youth fair (in 2021),” Garber said. “There’s more to a fair than just junior fair.”
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