By COURTNEY ALBON
They filled the Midway, lining up for French fries and funnel cakes. They gathered in clusters outside the Yo-Yo and the Big Cat Encounter. They were the stars of the Junior Fair livestock sales.
On Friday, the Ashland County Fair belonged to area youth.
Friday was Youth Day at the fair, which meant most Ashland County schools were closed and students were free to roam the fairgrounds all day. Attendance hit —–, up from 27,654 last year, fair manager Steve Englet said.
Ashland High School freshman Nick Mendenhall arrived at the fair at 9 a.m. and met his friends, Matthew Johnson and Nathan Goodsite. Mendenhall said Friday is the best day to visit the fair because he’s sure to run into most of his friends.
“I come for the animals, the food and the rides, but mostly because of my friends,” said Mendenhall who, at 4:30 p.m., had just stopped for a soda at Jeromesville United Methodist Church’s cafeteria on the Midway.
Rick Fortune, who runs Icey Island, said Youth Day typically boosts business — and Friday was no exception.
“It’s been a little slow the past few days. Having the kids here all day always helps,” said Fortune between a steady stream of customers.
Business also was steady at the Coliseum and the Swine Barn Friday as Junior Fair members auctioned their animals. The grand champion market hog sold for $8 a pound, the grand champion market lamb for $30 a pound and the grand champion Baby Beef for $3.75 a pound.
Ron Neer, secretary for the Baby Beef Committee, said after the auction that Baby Beef sales were pretty steady with last year’s, averaging about $1.30 a pound despite the market price resting at about 90 cents per pound.
“The market price is low and that’s where you see the bad economy. But you look at the numbers and the sale is about the same as last year’s. The buyers are generous and that helps,” Neer said.
Bobbi Jo Litten raised the grand champion Baby Beef, which Fin, Feather & Fur Outfitters purchased for $5,100. She’ll put the money toward purchasing animals for next year and will save any leftover funds for college.
Litten has shown market steers for five years, but this was the Ashland High School junior’s first year in Baby Beef. This year was more challenging, she said, since the Baby Beef competition does not allow owners to choose an animal, but rather acquire one through a draw.
“I’m really proud. It was a challenge, but it feels great to end up with a grand champion,” Litten said.
Heather Heffelfinger, who had the grand champion market lamb for the second year in a row, said it was nice to have her hard work pay off especially since this is her last year in 4-H.
“It’s sad, but it will be nice to just relax without being under so much pressure,” said Heffelfinger, who has been showing lambs for 12 years.
Heffelfinger’s lamb sold to Dr. Stephen Torski for $4,290.
Seth Ebert, a senior at Hillsdale, said he’ll use the $2,136 he earned from his grand champion hog to help pay for college. He plans to attend Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster.
Ebert has been showing hogs since he was 9 years old and said he’s learned a lot.
“You learn about respect and leadership. And you learn how to work with an animal,” Ebert said.
n Courtney Albon can be reached at 419-281-0581, ext. 243, or firstname.lastname@example.org.