Royal duties


GREENFIELD — When Shelby Wright was growing up, spotting the Hancock County 4-H Fair queen among a crowd of fairgoers was like spotting a celebrity at the supermarket.

She would rush over, unabashed, ask to take a photo and peer longingly at the queen’s sparkly crown.

This week, those roles are reversed.

Wright was crowned the 2015 Hancock County 4-H Fair queen Saturday, earning a title she aspired to for so long.

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She and five other young women from Hancock County serve as fair royalty this week, experiencing the responsibilities that come along with the titles — including requests for photos from young fairgoers.

During fair week, these ambassadors of the 4-H program will appear at popular fair events, often dressed in their finest, standing out like jewels among the blue-jeaned and dust-covered competitors and crowd.

From as early as 7:30 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m., fair royalty members can be seen bustling around the Hancock County Fairgrounds, handing out ribbons to 4-H winners and interacting with Hancock County residents, young and old.

But being fair queen is about more than a tiara and a week’s worth of attention. Wright said she sees the title as a responsibility to her county.

“My job is to be a role model,” she said. “I want to be seen as a positive person, to always have a smile on my face and to represent Hancock County well.”

The fair queen contest is a longstanding tradition in Hancock County.

The pageant started in 1958, and a queen has been crowned nearly every year since the program began. This year, 27 young women competed in the pageant. A queen, princess (first runner-up), Miss Congeniality and three court members were recognized.

Wright is no stranger to pageants. She holds the title of Miss Indiana High School Rodeo and served on the queen’s court in 2014 alongside her older sister, Hallie, who is currently the reigning Miss Hoosier Collegiate.

Shelby Wright’s fair queen title will take her to the Indiana State Fair queen contest in January.

Wright’s court includes Miss Congeniality winner Madeline Wilks; first runner-up and fair princess Juliann Apple; and court members Alexa Warren, Emily Schrope and Emily Sitzman.

Four of the six are Royals of a different sort as well: Wright, Schrope, Warren are all entering their senior year at Eastern Hancock High School, and Apple is a recent Royals graduate.

In their dresses and sashes, with matching wristlets containing lists of their assigned events dangling from their arms, the girls hustle from event to event with wide grins and energetic waves. When they need to get around quickly, they call up their “limo,” a Gator utility vehicle decorated with white tulle.

They got off to an enthusiastic start Monday morning, Schrope said.

There was a swine show in the morning, and the lamb burgers stand to be manned midday. Interviews with a local radio station were scheduled for the afternoon, and rabbit awards took place that evening.

Every day is different and subject to change at a moment’s notice, Warren said. Her appearance at a fashion contest, for example, was interrupted when she was called away to select the winner of a drawing.

Tuesday called for lots of cattle and hours of shuffling through the muck during the popular beef show. Wednesday was sure to be the most hectic day of the week, as four of the six — all of whom juggle 4-H projects of their own — were scheduled to show sheep, leaving the remaining two court members to cover for them, Apple said.

When their days at the fairgrounds become too hectic or heated, the girls retreat to a conference room in the Purdue Extension Office that is set aside just for them and stocked with snacks, cold drinks and a place to rest. Tables are filled with makeup cases, and dresses hang from whatever hooks the girls could find.

The girls have become fast friends, discovering they have much in common. Those who knew each other from school have had the chance to spend time together in a different atmosphere, while developing new relationships with the court member they just met.

“For me, this wasn’t about the competition, and I don’t think competitiveness has been a problem,” Schrope said.

“I did this for the experience and to gain friendships.”

If they hadn’t been chosen to participate in the fair court, the girls said, they likely would be spending their afternoons at the fairgrounds anyway. Wright admitted that if the pageant’s outcome had been different her crown likely would have been replaced by a rodeo belt buckle as the sparkling item in her fair week wardrobe.

The duties of the queen and her court don’t end with the fair. Wright said she and the others will make appearances at county events throughout the year. Wright also plans to continue a youth program, started by 2014 fair queen Annalee Witte of Wilkinson, that focuses on promoting self-confidence in young girls.

“The 4-H motto is to make the best better,” Wright said. “After hearing that, I really wanted to have impact on everyone the way 4-H has had an impact on me. I want to be that person everyone can look up to. I want everyone to feel like a winner.”