By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter
When people think of summer, most of them imagine vacations, sunny days, and warm weather. However, for many 4-H families, summer means it’s time to prepare for showing livestock at the Ohio State Fair.
The 2023 Ohio State Fair will kick off on July 26 and run through August 6. Over the past three years, the schedule for the annual event has undergone several changes revolving around the junior livestock program. In 2020, the fair was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, it was only open to livestock exhibitors, and in 2022, there were schedule changes that resulted in some species showing on dates outside of the scheduled fair.
In 2021 and 2022, the Ohio State Fair featured two Grand Drive events in the Taft Coliseum for breeding and market exhibitors. Similar to other national shows, the Grand Drive was a grand production, including a tunnel that exhibitors walked through, lights, smoke, announcers, and a live video stream for viewers at home. The livestock exhibition schedule also differed, with breeding stock arriving during the first week of the fair for all species, followed by market projects the following week.
The 2023 fair is returning to a 12-day schedule that closely resembles the pre-COVID timeline. This also means the end of the Grand Drive events in the Coliseum. The final drives for each species will return to their respective barns.
Virgil Stickler, the general manager of the Ohio Expo Center and Ohio State Fair, stated that the decision was not made lightly.
“We put a lot of thought into this, and we have to open up that Coliseum to get some of the horse events back in the fair. The draft horses will be back this year, and, of course, the junior fair horses. I’ve got to admit that I’m very sentimental about being in the actual facilities where they show for the final drives. I believe that keeping the crowd there will bring more excitement to the families who stay to watch those final drives,” he said. “We’ll make it more spectacular for the kids so that they can experience what happened in the Coliseum during those final drives. We will be able to include all the families in the facilities where the exhibitors have shown during the day, and they’ll want to be a part of seeing the grand champion and reserve being picked.”
The decision to change the schedule and the final drive structure has brought about mixed emotions from the broad array of Ohio State Fair participants and stakeholders, including junior fair exhibitors.
Brynn Shearer, a Wayne County 4-H member who exhibits both market and breeding sheep at the Ohio State Fair, was part of the Grand Drive in 2021.
“Being in the Coliseum was a great experience,” Shearer said. “I’ve also been in the final drive back in the barn, and while that was also amazing, I really enjoyed the entire experience in the Coliseum. It felt like a tribute to the work we had done all summer long. On the flip side, I do think it’s nice that that the market shows are all spread out because I know the pain many people went through running from barn to barn.”
Makenah Rohr, a swine exhibitor from Stark County, expressed her hopes for a memorable final year at the fair. She was able to win fifth overall market hog last year.
“I loved having the Grand Drive in the Coliseum,” Rohr said. “It gave me a lifetime experience that I am so grateful for. The acknowledgments they gave everyone were nice. When I heard it was back in the swine barn, I was kind of disappointed. It gets crowded in the barn during the final drive. I loved having it in the Coliseum because of the ring space, while also having my whole family attend without the hassle of being overcrowded.”
Bria White, a lamb exhibitor from Ashland County, has been showing at the Ohio State Fair for a few years now. Last year, White qualified for the Grand Drive event as well.
“It was cool having all my family there and walking through the tunnel when they announced your name. It was a good production, and I liked that they gave short introductions and bios for each of the exhibitors,” White shared. “This year, if I make it to the final drive, I am excited to see all of the ‘sheep people’ in the barn. I am glad that the people I look up to and my friends will be there to see it because last year, most of the exhibitors had gone home before the Grand Drive.”
Wyatt Osborn, a 4-H member from Highland County, had similar emotions as White. Osborn was in the Grand Drive in 2022 as an Outstanding Market Exhibitor, and in 2021 with his Shorthorn market steer. He is hoping to be back in the final drive this year, but this time in the Voinovich Arena.
“I liked the tunnel and big production of the Coliseum, but I would rather be back in the Voinovich. I missed the Voinovich. The Coliseum felt more crowded, and there’s a special feeling to the Voinovich,” he said. “Being in that final drive regardless feels like you’ve accomplished something special.”
Ron Mack, the director of the draft horse department for the Ohio State Fair, is glad to be back at the Coliseum. In 2021, due to scheduling conflicts within the draft horse show circuit, the show was held in Shipshewana, Ind. Last year’s Governor’s Cup was held before the Ohio State Fair opening.
“We will show draft horses and ponies for four days this year, from Aug. 1-4 Our exhibitors are excited to be back showing during the Ohio State Fair,” Mack said. “We have a few new things this year. The Governor’s Cup will be held for the first time on a Friday evening, Aug. 4. Additionally, there is a new class called the Queen’s Cup for a six-hitch of registered mares.”
Mack mentioned that the six-hitch teams will exhibit each night at 6 p.m., and he expects some of North America’s top teams to compete.
“I think the schedule is going to be good this year,” he said. “We will have a very good show.”
The junior market shows showcased in the Sale of Champions are:
• Junior Market Wether Goat Show Saturday, July 22
• Session 1 Junior Dairy Shows are Thursday, July 27 and Friday, July 28
• Session 2 Junior Dairy Shows are Wednesday, Aug. 2
• Junior Market Lamb Show Wednesday, July 26
• Junior Market Chicken and Turkey Show Thursday, Aug. 3
• Junior Swine Market Final Drive Saturday, Aug. 5
• Junior Market Beef Saturday, Aug. 5.
• Sale of Champions Sunday, Aug. 6.
The full Ohio State Fair schedule for livestock shows and events can be found at ohiostatefair.com.