By Matt Reese
As we work our way through the 2023 Ohio fair season, I can’t help but think about the immeasurable resources that go into each one of these events, especially the Ohio State Fair. Think for a moment about the investment of time, money and labor that goes into just one of the livestock projects at the fair, and there are thousands of them. Beyond that, consider the number of volunteer hours spent by fair board members, fair staff, barn staff, judges, donors, sponsors, buyers, farm organization members and staff, vendors, ride companies, and the list goes on. Each individual who participates has their own role to play and their unique piece of ownership of the fair experience. Every person involved in every component of each fair is vying for a place and role in the overall event. There are countless moving parts, all with a need for organization and a set of challenges to be addressed and managed.
When successful, a fair is a truly amazing thing for all parties involved, but things can get tricky in a hurry when something inevitably goes wrong. People who have personally invested so much in an event at the fair (not just this year’s fair, but often for decades) are often tired from their selfless efforts and quick to get frustrated when things go awry with their particular niche.
Virgil Strickler has surely settled many disputes as the longest serving general manager of the Ohio State Fair, an event that annually means so much to so many who participate. Strickler began working at the Ohio Expo Center in 1993 as agriculture director and was named general manager in 2004. Whether Ohio State Fair participants always agreed with Strickler or not over those years, it is clear to all he has worked with that he loves the fair, especially the youth participants and their families. Strickler announced this summer that he will be retiring after the 2023 Ohio State Fair.
“Today is bittersweet. I will be forever grateful for the last three decades at the Ohio State Fair,” Strickler said. “I’ve grown up at fairs, and Ohio’s county and independent fairs are what makes our State Fair so strong. I’ve watched my children, and now grandchildren, grow up here. The State Fair means so much to generations of Ohioans, and I’m proud of the strong partnerships we’ve developed over the years, and how they have helped our State Fair grow and improve each year.”
One example of finding an equitable balance in a potentially contentious aspect of the Ohio State Fair was the creation of the innovative Youth Reserve Program in 1995. Strickler was instrumental in implementing the nationally recognized program, which has been renamed the Virgil L. Strickler Youth Reserve Program in his honor. The purpose of the program is to reward junior exhibitors who participate in the Ohio State Fair with funds from winning bids that exceed the cap placed on the amount an exhibitor can receive from the Sale of Champions. The funds are then distributed to exhibitors in the form of scholarships for the Outstanding Market Exhibitor program, the Outstanding Breeding Exhibitor program, showmanship, skillathons, the All-Ohio State Fair Band & Youth Choir, 4-H, FFA, and other species and activities. Since its inception, the Youth Reserve Program has raised $4,691,150 from the sale of 510 youth champion project and distributed among more than 44,500 Ohio State Fair junior exhibitors.
As a result of the jaw-dropping, record-breaking success of the 2022 Sale of Champions, the 2023 Youth Reserve Program caps for the champions have been raised and the Reserve Champion Boer Goat has been added to the Sale of Champions. The new 2023 Sale of Champions caps are:
- Grand Champion Cheese — $9,000
- Grand Champion Turkey — $6,000
- Grand Champion Meat Chickens — $7,000
- Reserve Grand Champion Meat Chickens — $5,000
- Grand Champion Boer Goat — $8,000
- Reserve Grand Champion Boer Goat — $4,000
- Grand Champion Market Lamb — $13,000
- Reserve Grand Champion Market Lamb — $9,000
- Grand Champion Market Barrow — $13,000
- Reserve Grand Champion Market Barrow — $9,000
- Grand Champion Market Beef — $25,000
- Reserve Grand Champion Market Beef — $18,000
Funds raised beyond those caps are then awarded through the Youth Reserve Program as cash scholarships to exhibitors. For example, for a $100,000 sale of the Grand Champion Market Beef at a cap of $25,000, the remaining $75,000 from the Youth Reserve Program would be allocated as follows:
- Beef Outstanding Market Exhibitor — 12%
- Beef Outstanding Breeding Exhibitor – 12%
- Beef Breeding Exhibitors – 15%
- Beef Market Exhibitors – 15%
- Beef Skillathon – 10%
- Beef Showmanship – 15%
- All-Ohio State Fair Band – 2%
- All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir – 2%
- 4-H – 4%
- FFA – 4%
- Scholarships – 7%
- Other Species and Activities – 2%.
Of course, like all things at all fairs, there is plenty of opportunity for debate, discussions and disagreements about the details of the YRP, but the success of the program over the years cannot be denied. Hopefully, the program will continue to recognize and reward the efforts of junior exhibitors for many years to come.
I’m sure many will take time to thank and congratulate Strickler this Ohio State Fair as his much-deserved retirement approaches. And, as Ohio’s fair season continues to unfold, hopefully all of Ohio’s many fair volunteers and leaders get some appreciation for their extensive efforts as well. With all of the moving parts, running a fair (and all of its components) is no easy task. Thanks to all those out there who are working to make their 2023 fair experience a success for all involved.