By Matt Reese
In most years, a story about a livestock show in Ohio’s Country Journal would be focused on the exhibitors, maybe their animals. This year, however, is not most years.
The 2020 Ohio Youth Livestock Expo (OYLE) featured the usual crop of hard working young people and quality livestock impressing the judges and spectators alike. The fact that the show actually took place though, in the midst of changing rules and cancellation of just about everything else, may be the most newsworthy part of the event. A group of dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly to put the OYLE together in a short timeframe and exhibitors were grateful.
“It has been different, but it has been fun. We didn’t know if we were going to have a State Fair or not. We’re all extremely grateful to go to a real show, not online,” said Ava Shroyer, who had the grand champion market goat at the OYLE. “It makes me feel so excited. We didn’t know if this was really going to happen. [The volunteers] made sure it did happen for the kids and everything was perfect. It was a little warm but I’m not going to complain because we got to show. I want to thank everyone who made this possible. They started from scratch and it shows how much you all care about the exhibitors.”
The OYLE effort got started very soon after the cancellation of the Ohio State Fair was announced. No one quite knew what to expect in the earliest days of the OYLE as the effort was starting to take shape. One thing that was clear, amid the incredible uncertainty of 2020, was that the OYLE was going to try to do everything possible to provide an opportunity for Ohio State Fair livestock exhibitors to complete their projects in the show ring. There were many ups and downs along the way, but ultimately the shows did go on thanks to the incredible volunteer effort.
“It hasn’t been easy. Things have evolved very quickly. There have been a lot of conference calls and zoom calls so we could get things ready. We are all volunteers who live in different towns,” said Marlene Eick, who volunteered to help with OYLE communications. “It has been a massive effort and a fluid situation that continued changing as needed. Our exhibitors are glad to be able to show and stick with us in what we need to do on that front. We had the right people in place to make those plans and to quickly adapt to things. Our volunteers did things accordingly. We had a whole other set of volunteers serving on site who were trained on how we operate to guide everyone here.”
The OYLE kicked off on July 25 with the breeding goat show followed by the market show and showmanship the following day. The goats were followed by market lambs, cattle, breeding sheep, and hogs. The last of the shows wrapped up Aug. 16. All of the events were held at the grounds of The Great Darke County Fair.
Every effort was made to follow every detail of state and local guidelines for the event. The different species moved in and moved out in a short time period with extensive cleaning taking place in between. The shows were built around meeting the guidelines designed for the health and safety of the people and the livestock.
“We had Dr. Todd Price on our committee, a veterinarian who has been instrumental in helping us follow the protocol and set the guidelines,” Eick said. “There has been a lot of work behind the scenes to make this a safe and also a fun and successful experience for exhibitors. All of us were very glad to be able to do this for the exhibitors and their families. There are a lot of things we had to do differently, but everyone was happy to comply with the things we needed to do to host the show.”
The differences at the shows were immediately noticeable.
“These shows were for exhibitors, their families and sponsors only. This was not open to the public and spectators could not attend. We did have some people who came and we sadly were not able to let them into the show — they weren’t associated with an exhibitor who was showing.
Everyone was very understanding of that and thankfully we had a great partnership with some online streaming services and those shows are available online. You can watch the show from the comfort of your own home in air conditioning,” Eick said. “For exhibitors this was also different. Those differences were apparent right away. This is not a normal year so it was a different experience. When you drove in with your truck and trailer you were greeted with someone wearing a mask and gloves and they checked you in. The very specific protocols were communicated to the exhibitors right before their session to make sure what they had was the most up-to-date information. Everyone was wearing masks in the barn and in the show arena, except for the exhibitors in the ring who didn’t have to wear masks. When you were outside, but within 6 feet of someone, we were wearing masks. We were able to do this normal thing even if it was in a different way and we were all grateful to be here.”
In addition to the monumental effort of adhering to ever-changing guidelines, volunteers also stepped up to raise the funds necessary to put on an event of this magnitude.
“The fact that a group of volunteers have remotely planned together an event like this and raised an enormous amount of money to do so and brought together sponsors in 60 days — yeah it is really incredible. There are a lot of folks who have done a lot of work with sponsors,” Eick said. “It was amazing how quickly sponsors were willing to say ‘yes’ to helping with this event. It takes a lot of money to put on an event like this in terms of things like renting the venues, making sure we had what we needed to follow safety protocols and provide awards and recognition for the exhibitors. This event is only possible due to corporate sponsors on down to folks who donated to our GoFundMe page and people donating their time.”
With a truly monumental feat carried out by an unpaid group of people, there were certainly questions along the way about whether the effort was worth the incredible sacrifice of so many. Many exhibitors and their families think it was.
“It was very different compared to other shows but I think people cooperated very well with the situation we were in. The masks were annoying, but if you wanted to show you’d better wear one,” said Bailee Amstutz from Union County who had the grand champion market lamb. “We can’t thank [the volunteers] enough for the amount of time and effort they have put in. I know this thing was on the line for a few days and they fought to make it happen. Hats off to all of them to make it a great show.”
Exhibit numbers were on par with the Ohio State Fair livestock shows and the quality of the livestock being shown was similar.
“Everybody showed up and brought their A team,” Amstutz said. “It was a lot different than the State Fair but the quality felt like the State Fair. It was cool to have all the quality that was there to represent the great state of Ohio.”
Haleigh Stephens, an eighth grader from Ashland County, had the grand champion market steer. She was obviously thankful for the experience.
“It was different from a lot of shows, but it was fun and exciting to be able to get out. I worked hard all summer, morning through night. When I heard there wasn’t going to be an Ohio State Fair, I was very upset,” she said. “Thank you for everything you guys have done. This was incredible. No matter what stopped us [everywhere else], it didn’t stop Ohio.”
Results from the shows are available at ocj.com under “Livestock.” Complete results and the online shows are available at theoyle.com.