Round robin repeat: 4-H’er named showmanship champ second year in a row

GREENFIELD — As the Hancock County 4-H Fair neared its end, eight 4-H’ers — all coincidentally Eastern Hancock students — competed Thursday evening for the fair’s highest honor in livestock showmanship.

In the end, 2014’s champion, Evan Witte, was again declared supreme showman, with Bryce Jordan named reserve supreme showman.

Witte and Jordan were joined by Cole Allen, Tressa Janes, Juliann Apple, Delanie Melton, Conner Cross and Logan O’Neal in what was referred to as the “round robin” event. The contestants qualified by winning champion or reserve champion showmanship in beef, dairy or swine, or by being named the lamb or market lamb showman.

On Thursday, they were tasked with showing their prowess first with pigs, then dairy heifers, sheep and finally beef steers. Not only were the youths working with species they weren’t most comfortablewith, but none of the animals used belonged to any of them.

“All animals are on loan,” event superintendent Debbie Vansickle said.

In addition, the judges were new.

“They don’t know the kids and haven’t seen them prior to this,” Vansickle said.

As each judge looked on, the contestants worked hard to guide and present their four-legged companions, which weren’t always keen to cooperate. The sheep complained constantly. A few of the animals relieved themselves. Also, all eight human-animal pairs were in the show arena simultaneously, at times appearing something like the world’s most awkward dog show.

Still, the judges were impressed with the competitors’ poise and ability to control the animals.

“It’s a great opportunity to see examples of a showman who is able to adapt to different animal species and show they really put the work into it,” said Meggie Foster of Greenfield, who judged the dairy portion of the event. She owns and shows registered Jersey cattle.

As opposed to events in which both contestant and animal are judged, the focus of the supreme showmanship event was mainly on the 4-H’er.

“We’re basically looking for how they handle the animal,” Foster said. “A lot of times, I’ll ask them a question. (For instance), I’ll ask them, ‘What breed of animal are you showing?’ It shows they put a little research into what they’re doing.”

Each judge gave a first-through-eighth placing for the contestants for that particular round, and the resulting ranking scores were added by fair staff to determine the final winner.

Witte, who qualified by winning market lamb showman earlier in the week, admitted to feeling nervous about his performance, despite a lot of experience in showing hogs, cattle and lambs. He noted lambs are his “strong suit,” but having an unfamiliar sheep didn’t help.

“It was frustrating,” he said, “because it wasn’t always cooperating.”

As for which contestant he felt was doing best, Witte named Janes: “She’s very skillful. She’s been at this the longest of us, and she’s very competitive.”

Witte’s mother, Janna Witte, agreed it was a strong field of contestants.

“Anybody could have won this,” she said. “These are rock-solid kids.”

But she also praised her son’s way with livestock.

“Something about him and an animal,” she said. “He can get it to look good.”

Evan Witte just completed his sophomore year at Eastern Hancock High School and plans to return to compete for more showmanship honors next year. As for his future, his 4-H experiences might have influenced a career. He is considering a major in livestock judging.