In one word, that’s how Kamryn Kreis, 18, described the announcement that the Ohio State Fair had been canceled for 2020. This was not how her last year of showing pigs at the state fair was supposed to go.
Nearly 2,500 miles away, Alyssa Donich, 18, felt the same way when she heard the California State Fair was canceled, and her senior year show career was cut short.
And somewhere in between, 18-year-old Lynsey Schmitz of Oakes, N.D., was in shock when she found out that the North Dakota State Fair was canceled, too.
From coast to coast, show management have been making the challenging decision to cancel fairs and expositions this year due to concerns for public health.
In response to the cancellation of the Ohio State Fair, Andy Doehrel, chair of the Ohio Expositions Commission, said, “The financial ramifications of hosting a reduced-capacity fair would be too great, and we need to protect the great Ohio State Fair for future generations.”
Meanwhile, some states like South Dakota plan to move forward with state fair plans. Gov. Kristi Noem said, “We’re thinking out of the box on ways to continue on with the fair and still keep people safe and public health a priority.”
For the past 47 years, Jim McCoy of Bloomingburg, Ohio, has been raising pigs and supporting the Ohio State Fair. He expected early county fairs and jackpot shows to be canceled, but he said he was hopeful things would level out with COVID-19 as late summer approached.
“The cancellation of the Ohio State Fair was a surprising and devastating blow to the youth livestock program in our state,” McCoy says. “Being a family project, the time, effort, dollars invested in livestock, and all it takes to raise them to completion, just scratches the surface of all that is involved in a junior project.”
Kreis of Adamsville, Ohio, has been showing pigs for 10 years and has been working toward the goal of exhibiting the grand champion barrow at the Ohio State Fair. Although nothing can replace her state fair, she is hopeful she’ll still have a chance to exhibit her pigs somewhere.
“I will continue to work my barrows everyday as I would do if there was a state fair, because I have hopes that there will be other opportunities for us juniors to be able to exhibit our livestock that we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into,” Kreis says.
Although she understands there is much more to the Ohio State Fair than youth livestock shows, she disagrees with the decision to completely cancel the state fair because there could be alternate ways to allow 4-H and FFA members to show their projects.
Donich at the 2019 California State Fair (Photo provided by Donich)
Prior to the news that the California State Fair was canceled, Donich says her county fair was canceled, too.
“I never imagined in a million years this is how my senior year show career would be. I was looking forward to showing at state fair this year with my family and friends by my side,” Donich says.
For this Ripon, Calif., native, the canceled shows changed her plans a little, but not much, she explains.
“We cut down on feeding out some of our show pigs and put some in the butcher or sow pens we have at home. With the ones we are still feeding out right now, we are planning to enter as many virtual shows as we can and plan on going to Reno at the end of June,” Donich says.
Schmitz at the 2020 Sioux Empire Livestock Show (Photo by Empire Imagery)
A Quiet Barn
Schmitz was 2 years old when her dad, Paul, introduced her and her sister to the livestock show ring. He passed away just over 10 years ago, but the girls still share his passion for livestock today.
Their barn is full of hogs, lambs, heifers and steers, Schmitz says. It’s hard to believe her last year of 4-H has ended so soon.
“We were all speechless when we found out,” she says. “We walked through the barn that morning to do chores and we were all crying as we thought this was our best set ever to have on feed.”
The girls continue their efforts daily to wash, train and feed their livestock as if there is a show tomorrow, but Schmitz says she is doubtful she’ll be able to get any of them to a show.
“My dad always told me to give 110% in all that I do, so that’s what I’ll keep doing,” she says. “I love everything about showing livestock – the friends and families we get to spend time with, the breeders we’ve met along the way, and the time we spend as a family driving up and down the road making memories.”
Kreis at the 2019 Ohio State Fair (Photo by Linde's Livestock Photography)
Why Shows Matter More Than Ever
Livestock shows are not just about winning ribbons, they serve as catalysts for life lessons. For example, showing livestock has taught Kreis that being a good role model is not something you can start and stop whenever you feel like it.
“Even if you think no one is watching you, there’s a little kid that watches your every move because they want to be just like you someday, so keeping the negative comments to yourself and always making sure that you’re being the best person you can be while in the ring, or even just back in the barn, is so important for those who look up to you,” Kreis says.
Donich adds that the show ring has provided her a place to learn the importance of finishing what you started.
“This has been really important this year because with all the livestock shows getting canceled, it has taught me that you still need to do your best and act like you are still going to that show. I still work day-in and day-out with my pigs even though I only have one live show that I may get to attend,” Donich says.
Disappointment is a reality of life that youth must learn, too. Unfortunately, so many memories have been robbed from young people now.
“In times like these, stability of life, mentally positive activities and fellowship among youth builds character and lifelong relationships,” McCoy says. “This kind of hope is priceless.”
McCoy says he’s grateful to be a part of the livestock industry where amazing people will continue to come together to support young people through it all.
“It is frustrating when certain aspects are beyond your control. Feeling as though one’s hands are tied with few options to do more, even when you know it is right,” McCoy says.
For a list of state fair cancellations, check out our interactive map below.
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