As the judges selects the class winner at the Missouri State Fair Swine Show, one-by-one young exhibitors leave their hog behind and make their way across the show ring to congratulate the winner.
I would never have caught the gesture had the image not appeared in my camera lens. Often I am focused on the cute little girl and her pig, or the young man driving his hog. Many times, I am just trying to see how well individuals did that I know. But there was something during this year's state fair that grabbed my attention--the sportsmanship in the show ring.
You see, this particular show was not the champion drive. It is common in almost every barn at the Missouri State Fairgrounds those exhibitors who win the top 4-H, FFA or overall champion will hear accolades from their fellow exhibitors and ringside parents. However, this moment was during a lightweight class of hogs.
Really, what were they thinking? The likelihood of this hog going on to win the top honors was slim. But there is a sense of sportsmanship even in showing livestock.
It is like lining up at the pitcher's mound on a little league softball field and slapping the hands of the other team saying "good game." Missouri youth applaud the efforts of others. And it is no different in the livestock show circuit.
After all, those who are in that show ring work hard during the summer, travel to shows and ultimately want to have the judge select their animal. It is a symbol of a job well done. And Missouri youth see the importance of honoring that work ethic.
I have long been focused on rewarding the positive actions of our youth. However, I know that for many it is a learned response.
From the time my daughters first entered the show ring at the age of 6 and 8, their Uncle Bobby instructed them on proper show ring etiquette. It started with shaking the hand of the judge after the show. As he explained, it is not whether or not that judged placed you well during the day; it was that the judged took the time out to analyze your stock.
For the first couple of years, he accompanied them. He led by example showing them how to shake a hand and what to say. Then as they grew older, there was quizzing. "Did you go shake the judge's hand?" he questioned. To this day, whether a county show or the state fair, they are in the habit of shaking the judge's hand.
But it was not just the judge. He also showed them how important it is to shake the hand of fellow exhibitors. Now as he has children of his own, he still congratulates those who win. After years of work, I believe he now truly understands the gesture. It is not just a habit, but also an honor.
I am thankful that my children had a great mentor in show ring. And by the looks of those young exhibitors at the Missouri State Fair, others have passed on the important sportsmanship aspect that accompanies livestock shows.