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County fair gold: Antique Showmanship

Slideshow: At one county fair this summer, the tables were turned as parents came in the ring and kids became judges — and sideline coaches — for a memorable afternoon. Here’s how it all went down.

Bring together a bunch of people who’ve known each other forever, a few head of cattle, a county fair that unites them all, and what do you have? For one Illinois county fair this summer, it was just the right combination for an afternoon of fun and laughter. They called it Antique Showmanship, and it may well have been the highlight of the beef barns at the Fulton County Fair this year.

The idea came together at the last minute, born of an effort in the goat barn to hold an “antique showmanship” contest with all the moms and dads. Robyn Hendel, Avon, suggested that the beef superintendents do the same, and they agreed, holding their own Antique Showmanship contest on the second day of cattle shows, following junior and senior showmanship.

No one was quite sure of the rules, so those were made up on the fly. Age was limited to 30 to 70 years old, and more than two dozen “antiques” showed up with cattle and show sticks. Some were in serious competition mode; others less so, with costumes and a schtick designed to entertain. The group was divided into two heats, and under the watchful eye of judge Grant Bedel, three senior showmen did the judging. The teenagers — Kyle Eathington, Emma Eathington and Halee Hendel — each picked a winner from both heats. They also chose a “worst showman” from each heat. Then they held final heats for the best and worst showmen. Spectators donated cash prizes on the fly, and reportedly, there’s even a traveling trophy now for worst showman.

In the best showman finals were Lonna Porter, Dan Kiesewetter, David Spangler, Erin Featherlin, Brooks Rock and Amanda Powell. Competing for worst showman: Gary Tompkins, in costume, and Denny Buchen, sporting a photo in his harness of himself showing 50 years ago at the Fulton County Fair.

From the bleachers and around the ring, kids shouted directions at their parents. “Get her head up, Mom!”; “No, not that foot — the other one!”; “Why are you circling her AGAIN?”

Bedel made the showmen answer questions into the microphone, asking everyone to address the most important issue facing the beef industry. Answers ranged from silly to serious to self-promotional. Nearly all got a big laugh from the crowd. Shenanigans ensued as some competitors tried to out-stick each other, not help each other, pull in front of each other and generally have a good time. 

The young judges labored over their decision, making a show of playing rock-paper-scissors to pick the winner. In the end, David Spangler won the coveted title of first-ever Best Antique Showman at the Fulton County Fair. Gary Tompkins brought home the title of worst showman, stopping at the mic on his way out to thank “God, my family and the Fulton County Fair” for the honor.

In the end? Every last person in the barn, from young to old, was laughing and smiling and having a ball at the fair — which might be the best win of all.

To see photos, click through the slideshow below.

TAGS: Beef Livestock
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