Dairy Show participant

Courtesy photo

Sarah Fitzmiller, with El Campo Junior FFA, handles “Minnie,” who would have been competing in the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s dairy show on March 22. She would have been there alongside other youth who have had families showing for many years, said Sarah’s father, Robert.

For the past several months, 4-H and FFA members from throughout Wharton County have been working hard, raising and grooming animals for show in the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. But as a result of the corona virus, this suddenly stopped.

“Our youth were disappointed that they would not have the opportunity to exhibit their projects and participate in contests at this year’s HLS&R,” Wharton County 4-H Extension Agent Laura Reyna said. “They put a lot of time and effort into their projects for many months and not being able to have that experience this year is something that they have lost.”

Wharton High School Ag teacher Kelsey Witzkoski agreed. 

“We are on Spring Break so I am not sure how everyone felt about it at the time of the announcement (this week),” Witzkoski said. “I just know that when I found out I called my co-worker who was in line waiting to be stalled with junior breeding heifers and he hadn’t heard any info yet from the HLSR committee themselves.” 

Wharton County had 52 4-H members who were entered to exhibit or compete. Of those registered, only four participated in their chosen field. Three of those (Dylan Johnston, Isabel Stork, and Evan Wilson) were part of the Young Guns Shotgun Contest at the end of February and the fourth was in the Quilt Contest held earlier this year. That participant was Taylor Watz, from El Campo Jr.-Sr. 4-H Club, and won “Best of Division” with her handmade applique quilt.

Reyna said projects included pigs, broilers, dairy cattle, steers, heifers, and ag mechanics. They had members entered in the following contest: Public Speaking, Dairy Judging, Livestock Judging, and the Food Challenge Contest.

Wharton FFA had about 15 student participants who had a variety of projects: junior breeding heifers, swine show, livestock judging and ag mechanics. In fact, the heifer students were waiting in line and were turned away shortly after they arrived on Wednesday, March 11.  

Witzkoski said their projects included brahman heifers, market swine, ag mechanics – wooden feed trough and ag mechanics – wooden show box. 

Witzkoski said one of the other participants was a Wharton High School senior.

“That means it is her last year to show a pig in the market show of the livestock show, someone who has worked tirelessly to raise this market animal and now all of that goes out the window (at least for the Houston show,” Witzkoski said. 

Robert Spitzmiller spoke about his daughter Sarah. She had entered “Minnie” into the dairy project for the show. Although Minnie was one of the best entries Sarah ever had, she could not present her.  

“We are sad, but very proud of her (Sarah’s) hard work including feeding and milking every day twice a day, keeping clean and free of flies,” Spitzmiller said. 

Since attending the HLS&R is a family affair, Reyna said it not only affected members but their families as well.  

FFA exhibitors from Boling, East Bernard, El Campo, and Wharton were also entered to exhibit livestock at the 2020 HLS&R.

Like the FFA students, 4-H members were in line also when the news came down. 

“We did have four members who were at the staging location to check-in with the heifers when the news broke about the cancellation of the show,” Reyna said.

The sudden closure caused other dreams to be shattered, too. Witzkoski said two students who were supposed to partake in the calf scramble in Houston, will now miss out on the opportunity to possibly catch a calf and use the money to help buy a heifer for next year. The two students are juniors, which means this was their last year to scramble.

As an official with the extension office, Reyna said she doesn’t know of any alternatives to help alleviate some of the loss students have endured.

“We have not received any official notice of plans at this point in time. As we know from going through Hurricane Harvey, it’s times like this when the community wants to help. I commend the many fair and livestock facilities in the region who offered up their barns to allow heifers a place to rest before beginning the long journey home,” Reyna said. “Many exhibitors came from across the state to travel to Houston, then waited in long lines to unload. When word came that the show was cancelled, many heifers were simply too exhausted to make the trip back home.”

Reyna expects the young people to bounce back.

“While this is all very devastating for our youth and everyone involved, our 4-H members and their families are resilient. With the Wharton County Youth Fair right around the corner, I’m sure you will see them all with shining faces excited to be doing what they love.”

The WCYF will be at the Crescent Fair Grounds from April 13-26.

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