A 4-Her hugs her show goat

A 4-Her hugs her show goat at the Oklahoma Youth Expo. (Photo courtesy Legacy Livestock Imaging.)

The atmosphere in America, it feels like something that only happens in other places, but instead it is happening in real time—in our back yard—and a dangerous virus is making its way around the world, closing schools, shutting down restaurants, compelling people to stock-pile toilet paper and causing events to be cancelled. One such event, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, was called off before exhibitors even got their animals in the stalls. 

The Oklahoma Youth Expo, often referred to as the largest youth livestock show in the world, was one of the few events that soldiered on as scheduled, pending mandatory shutdown by health officials or the governor. The show, originally scheduled for March 9-20, was to take place smack dab in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. All the while the staff stressed balancing the safety of patrons and giving the exhibitors the chance to show their animals.

While other events were called off in the midst of the world-wide panic, the staff at OYE knew the work, time and finances these 4-H and FFA members put into their projects, and foresaw the heartbreak and disappointment cancelling the show would ensue. OYE is in its 105th year, and the staff did everything in their power to keep the show going. These exhibitors look forward to this livestock show every year, displaying improved showmanship skills, dreaming of their steer flinching at the impact of the judge’s winning slap on the hip or the pride of being selected to be in the premium sale, also called the Sale of Champions.

As COVID-19 increased in severity, the OYE team expedited the schedule, moving up shows to try to end the event at least a day early. However, by Sunday, March 15, it became clear, the remainder of the show would be cancelled. Mayor David Holt declared Oklahoma City to be in a state of emergency and Governor Kevin Stitt followed by declaring all 77 counties in Oklahoma to be in a state of emergency. Fortunately, the governor gave the okay to complete the commercial ewe show Sunday night. Although all the breeding animals were exhibited, none of the 4-H and FFA members with market animals would have their time in the show ring this year.

According to those in attendance, with the conclusion of the ewe show just before midnight that same evening, Jerry Fitch, Oklahoma State University professor and state sheep specialist, took the microphone to give an announcement. He spoke to a quiet, somber crowd of sheep showmen, parents and agriculture instructors, saying himself and the OYE staff believed the high school senior sheep exhibitors deserved one last trip to the show ring for a showmanship class.

Sources say the crowd cheered, exhibitors jumped up to ready their sheep and all was as well as it could be as the showman entered the ring with the sound system blaring AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. OYE 2020 took place under unfortunate circumstances, but by the end, the OYE staff’s passion and respect for the 4-H and FFA members that populate the state of Oklahoma was palpable, raw, undeniable and a true testament to the close-knit community 4-H and FFA generate.

The year 2020 has been about as unpredictable as the weather in Oklahoma, between a contentious presidential election year, a historic impeachment trial, the loss of a legendary NBA star and a virus that has crippled the economy, halted travel, crashed markets, incited fear for public safety and put a hold on education. These times are unprecedented, but as we’ve all witnessed, when people in the agriculture community are faced with challenges, we always get back up, dust ourselves off and act like the judge didn’t see a thing.

 Lacey Newlin can reached at 580-748-1892 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

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