Barrel racing

Live scenes from the Horse & Pony members of Steuben County 4-H is something that won’t be happening during this year’s 4-H Fair after the event ends up going virtual due to safety measures put in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

CROOKED LAKE — The Steuben County 4-H Fair will not go on as usual.

After much deliberation, the Steuben County 4-H Fair Board decided to hold the fair virtually. If it had been held in person, it would have been limited to 4-H’ers and their immediate supporters with few festivities outside the show ring.

The 4-H program is overseen by Purdue Extension, which is allowing fairs in July with numerous safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The requirements are many, including social distancing at all times and daily health screens for all involved. The process would have required gallons of hand sanitizer and 10-20 people daily just to handle cleaning responsibilities, said Extension 4-H Youth Development Educator Tami Mosier during Monday’s meeting of the fair board, when the board took the issue under consideration. Board members had the rest of the week to review options and Thursday night were forced to make the decision — as unpopular as it may be for some.

Dates for the online competitions will be similar to those set for the fair, July 17-23, “but we haven’t ironed out the timeline,” Mosier said.

The fair board has scheduled meetings for June 1 and June 8 at 7 p.m.

While the decision to hold the fair online instead of in person is causing some displeasure, there were many health-related rules that would have needed to be followed if the fairgrounds had been used. That would have included everyone wearing a mask, constant cleaning of surfaces and bathrooms and a registration to track those in attendance in case one of them tested positive for coronavirus.

“This was a painstaking, humble decision as we recognize youth and their families have experienced a great deal of disappointment already in 2020,” said Mosier in a letter sent to members, parents and volunteers Thursday night.

The letter wrapped up with this statement: “The news may be upsetting for some and a relief to others. No matter your stance, we kindly ask that you refrain from disrespectful dialogue and discourse, as we have seen so prevalent on social media lately, and be of good character.”

4‑H is America’s largest youth development organization. Head, Heart, Hands and Health are the four H’s in 4‑H. The 4-H pledge goes like this:

”I pledge my head to clearer thinking,

My heart to greater loyalty,

My hands to larger service,

and my health to better living,

for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

Mosier and the Extension Office, which is currently open by appointment only, have received numerous telephone calls over the past weeks. Monday, Mosier provided a lot of documentation and information to guide the board but did not make a recommendation.

Now that the decision to have a virtual fair has been made, she said local fair administrators will network with other counties in a similar situation to come up with the best way to present this year’s fair.

“The fair won’t be the fair we have always known — not even close — and we grieve that with you,” Mosier wrote. “We are grateful that families have prioritized 4-H despite the pandemic, and we want to continue the tradition of putting your hard work and learning on display, albeit in a totally different manner than we are accustomed to. There will no doubt be opportunity for youth to practice creativity and mastery as we undertake this new challenge together and prove youth resilience.”

The 4-H’ers will submit their work through the online platform that has been used to register projects the past few years. Exhibits will be judged through information and photos provided. The Extension Office is experimenting with ways to make the exhibits public after judging. Scorecards, critiques and ribbons will be distributed at a later time, said Mosier.

Those 4-H members that do not want to participate in the virtual fair need only fill in their record sheet to get credit for the year.

“We are determined to recognize 10-year members and graduating seniors,” said Mosier. “Our intent is to offer a support auction for market animals that will have exhibited virtually.”

An auction committee will be meeting and details will be released after that meeting.

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