By Madi Kregel, OCJ field reporter
Every year in January, around 80 of Ohio’s finest young junior and independent fair queens gather in Columbus for a chance to win the ultimate title of the Ohio Fairs’ Queen at the Ohio Fair Managers Association (OFMA) Convention. While the 2020 Ohio Fairs’ Queen Contest went on just as previous years had (three months before the pandemic hit), the 2021 Ohio Fairs’ Queen contest is going to look fairly different than years past and feature changes allowing the candidates to participate in person, all while optimizing social distancing requirements.
The 2021 OFMA Virtual Convention went on as planned, starting in early January with a variety of events on Zoom. Virtual OFMA workshops and seminars continue through February and into March. For a schedule see the OFMA December Newsletter at ohiofairs.org/newsletters/2020-12-newsletter.pdf. While most of the convention is being held virtually, for the safety of the queen candidates and an effort to provide an in-person event, the OFMA pushed back the to contest closer to spring. Mackenzie Hoog, the 2020 Ohio Fairs’ Queen, gave some insight on the contest and what it is expected to look like.
“We’re going to try and move that to later spring, probably February-March and try and make it so that we can possibly have that in person. But that is the biggest thing that is being changed as of right now,” Hoog said.
Typically the contest requires all queen candidates participating in the contest to compete together in Columbus at various times during the first full day of the OFMA convention. However, with CDC guidelines in this pandemic, gathering that many people in one spot has proven to be almost impossible. With that in mind, the OFMA decided to hold smaller district contests before having a final state queen contest. Hoog explained the process.
“There are nine fair districts, so they decided to do district contests first, and then those nine queens that get chosen out of their district, to represent their district, will move up to the OFMA contest and then that will kind of look normal from there,” she said.
The queens in each district will meet for judging, the judges are picked strategically as those who live out of the district, and a young woman will be picked to win the title as one of the nine district queens that will move on to the OFMA contest.
“It’s going to be pretty similar to that normal process except for the fact that, you’re going into an interview room, they do the interview, and then all of the girls will go on stage and do an onstage question portion, and then the judges will go back and pick their top girl to go on to the OFMA contest,” Hoog said. “When the top nine come up to me, they will all then go through another interview process again, and then the top queen will be picked.”
Currently, the OFMA is still working on how they will handle the top four or five queens that will be picked out of the nine district queens to move on to the final rounds of the contest. In years past, all of the queens met in Columbus and went through one interview room before preparing to greet the audience on stage and find out who the top 15 queens were. The top 15 queens each answered a fish bowl question and from there the judges deliberated who would go on to the top five of the contest. The retiring queen would give her final address and the announcement of the top five queens followed the address.
“The biggest reason as to why to make it district contests is so that we could limit the amount of people that will be at the contest because usually there’s about 80 girls that are coming to Columbus, and whoever they bring with them, whether that’s parents or guardians, or friends and family, that’s a lot of extra people that are coming to that contest,” Hoog said.
Hoog said trying to pick a queen through a virtual interview can be a real challenge. The in-person district style may make the process easier on the judges and contestants while picking a queen.
“I will have to say, doing a virtual interview is a lot tougher than what people may think. The interview process that goes into it, even in person, was very trying and very hard,” she said. “Because it’s just a lot of questions and those judges need to understand the girl — how she carries herself and what she’s like in person, and how she can interact with people in the future while she’s going to fairs.”
Hoog said that if the contest were to be moved to all online, it’s only with the intentions to keep everyone safe through the remainder of this pandemic.
“So I want the ladies to keep that in mind, we’re not intentionally trying to cheat you out of an opportunity, just think of it as a way to pivot and adapt to another thing that is being thrown at us,” she said.