As a journalist, there’s not much I love more than fair season.
I have fond memories of my time reporting in Hampton, and covering the Franklin County Fair: snapping a photo of a girl holding a funnel cake bigger than her head, getting people to wave at the camera from their vantage point on a carnival ride, fanning the heat and flies away as I watch what seems like an endless line of cattle go through the arena. There were a lot of downfalls to covering the fair, including the sunburns, the daily deadlines, and the fact that, no matter how much anyone tries to convince me, I will never believe that one cow looks any different than the one before and don’t understand how such a thing can be judged—but even the most unlikable elements of the fair don’t hold a candle to the good ones. I will always love seeing the excitement, the hard work, the dedication, and the pride that FFA and 4H students put into this kind of work. The jubilation when a barrel race goes just right, the anguish when it doesn’t, the lessons of sportsmanship and accepting that some things are out of your control—I think all of those experiences shape those students for the better.
Which is why my heart goes out to every senior whose last fair season was held in silence. Was held in a masked, six-feet-apart, don’t-get-too-close environment with no smells of deep-fried wares floating across the grounds, no hogs squealing in the distance, no fair-goers meandering through the arenas to spectate the livestock shows. You deserved a better last hurrah than this. I know you understand why you couldn’t have one, and that the fair board’s and extension office’s decisions were for your safety, but no one can deny that you did not deserve this.
And to the students whom are competing in the fair for the first time, I hope you know that we as a community will work hard to make sure that you do not experience this again, this eerie silence in the stands, these ghostly fairgrounds devoid of caricatures and corn dogs and laughter. The adults, the leaders, the example setters in this community will step up and acknowledge their responsibility to prevent further impacts to our children’s future by making intelligent decisions today.
You did not deserve this either, first-time fairgoer. Please set your sights on a better environment in 2021, where the fair will be one of the funnest, most challenging, and most rewarding experiences of your teenage life.
There are so many fair experiences I will miss this year, from Wild West horse shows to the fair queen crowning to pedal tractor pulls, and some that I don’t miss as much—muddy clothes from spending eight hours in a dirt arena, ringing ears from being backstage in the grandstand, passing out at my desk after a 14 hour day. Some of those things I had no choice but to experience anyway today, after a six-hour horse show: a wicked sunburn, and that layer of arena dust that settles on you like a second skin. But the experience as a whole is one that I wouldn’t miss for the world.
To the seniors whose last fair was 2020’s, I’m sorry for this hand you’ve been dealt, for so much more than just the fair: school, prom, graduation, everything that should have gone into your last experience as a high school student. To every senior who turned back for one last look at the arena, ball field, stage, etc., to think about all of the memories that would have and should have been, and to the seniors who didn’t even get that opportunity. From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry.
To all students returning to the arena next year, I’m excited to see you there. I applaud you for letting what is undoubtedly one of the bleakest, most disappointing, and most uncertain times that you’ve ever experienced roll off your shoulders. Please hold the adults in your lives accountable to ensure that you never experience this again.
We owe it to you to make sure of it.