This weekend marks the beginning of one of my favorite weeks of the whole year: The Kansas State Fair.
I love the fun, food, atmosphere and general feeling of joy that surrounds the fair. But most of all, I love the amazing kids that compete in everything from entomology and taxidermy to showing livestock, demonstrating their mastery of a wide range of skills.
There’s something inspiring about the enthusiastic smile of kid whose chicken just got awarded a purple ribbon or the rugged endurance of the kid whose dog just won’t do what he is supposed to do in the obedience show. And I’m always impressed by the 4-H program and its ability to teach kids that it’s more about the doing than it’s about the winning or losing.
There may be fewer kids on the farm than at any time in American history, but those who join 4-H get an experience unmatched by any other program out there. They may be building rockets or taking photos instead of showing sheep and pigs, but they are learning how to do whatever job they attempt to the best of their ability.
It is humbling and rewarding to be part of their lives for the days they are at the fair and to share some of their stories as they go about the final display of a year of hard work, success, failure, elation and disappointment.
Every one of those kids is a winner long before the ribbons are placed and the champions are staged. They become winners when they make up their minds to try and stick with it until the skill is mastered. No matter the final outcome, they have gained the experience.
Each year finds some kids that have been there to compete every year for a decade and some that are showing off their skills for the very first time. They have a special kind of courage and spunk. They invariably restore my faith in the future. The world will be in good hands when the kids in those barns and exhibit halls take charge.
Too often, I hear people my age talking about how disrespectful, undereducated, entitled or lazy “kids today” are. I think they watch too much television and know too few kids. A great place to talk to some kids and get an upbeat attitude toward the future is to go to the fair.
Don’t just ride the rides and eat the Pronto Pups and deep-fried butter. Go to the exhibit buildings, the livestock barns and the show rings. Stop and talk to the kids. It’ll make you feel better. I promise.