GLADWIN COUNTY – At a time when children are released from school earlier in the year, and now have lost the ability to compete and stay active in their favorite fall sports, many parents are struggling to find ways to keep their children involved and active. The Gladwin County 4-H program has been able to do just that even after the cancelation of the Gladwin County Fair and other obstacles the 4-Hers have had to overcome. 

The Gladwin County Fair Board of Directors announced back in late May, that the 2020 Gladwin County Fair would be canceled. Many community members were saddened by this news, however, none more than those who were active participants in the local 4-H. 

4-H is a network of youth organizations whose mission is “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development” according to the 4-H official website. 

Locally, those in 4-H who rely on the Gladwin County Fair are those who are involved with the animal program that allows for members to raise an animal and to present their animal in a contest for prizes as well as recognition. The Gladwin County Fair serves as the local annual event for those involved in the 4-H animal program to compete with their raised animals in a show. 

With the cancellation of the 2020 Gladwin County Fair, the Gladwin County Record & Clarion stepped up in July to offer a way for the kids involved with 4-H to still compete and show their animals. This was an important part of the 4-H member’s year, as it was their chance for all of their hard work with their animals throughout the year to pay off. 

The Record & Clarion’s contest worked much differently than the show the kids were used to at the fair, however it still provided them with a goal and a way for them to maintain a more traditional year for 4-H than if there were no contest. 

The contest began with 18 local participants who submitted photos as well as a brief explanation of their animals. Those who participated went through three rounds of voting that took place online over the course of three weeks. The votes were made available to the public at the cost of 50 cents per vote, with a minimum of a $5 purchase. Some of the money from the voting process will be donated to the Gladwin County 4-H Program. 

The final round of voting in the 4-H Animal Photo Challenge resulted in Justin Bailey and his pigs as Grand Champion, who receives $1,000 as prize money. According to Justin, his prize money will go to building an expansion for his pig pen that will be a show arena and allow for him to walk his pigs. 

Justin was very excited to be named the Grand Champion of the contest, especially after months of uncertainty. Traditionally, after the show at the fair, the animals are auctioned off. This tends to be a more emotional part of the program, but this year, it was much worse according to Justin’s mother.  

“It was a very emotional year,” Beth Bailey said. “He bonded much more with his pigs during this year by being home more than usual.” 

Instead of auctioning the animals, the kids and families were tasked with selling them on their own. Justin had to contact many local businesses in order to try and find a buyer, which is much different than the competitive auction that often yields a higher pay-out. 

The Reserve Champion from the photo challenge was Bryar Pollard with her pigs. She will receive $500 for her placement. 

“We went into this year without knowing what was going to happen,” Bryar said. “We were hoping for the fair to continue to go on, we got the pigs, took them home, and started things off just like a new year, and then we heard about the fair being canceled.” 

Bryar was fortunately able to find a buyer for her pigs without the fair by selling to family friends. She believes that her year went a bit more normal than most by being able to still compete and sell her pigs outside of the fair’s event. 

Because of her winnings in the contest, Bryar was able to cover the initial cost of her pigs, so she more or less “broke even” for this year. She was able to stay busy with her pigs and maintain a relatively normal year as opposed to most. 

“I’d really like to thank those who helped put on the contest because it gave us something to do and allowed us to compete and it helped those who would have had trouble selling,” Bryar said. 

Riley Sprague was announced the Reserve Runner-Up Champion with his rabbit, Loki. Riley won $250 for his placement in the contest. This would have been Riley’s fourth year showing at the fair. According to Riley, he missed the group meetings he would have in his club where they would practice showing their rabbits and socialize with other members. 

“The kids still play with their animals at home, but it’s not the same as having those organized meetings,” Riley’s mother, Erica Sprague said.

As a parent, Erica enjoys seeing her children be responsible for their animals by cleaning up after them and feeding them as well as showing dedication and a passion for taking care and presenting their animals. 

According to Erica, selling the 4-H animals was a tricky process because Facebook has a rule against selling live animals. However, through local groups and livestock communities with an online presence, she was able to find buyers. 

Currently, the 4-H program plans on continuing only through online interaction such as through Zoom video meetings. All of the contest winners have plans on participating in 4-H regardless of how things work out in the future. 

“4-H is a really good way for kids to gain experience,” Erica Sprague said. “And as they get older, they offer so many programs; assuming things go back to normal someday.” 

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