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Virus costs children chance to show livestock at favorite annual event
Vivian Zoller
First-grader Vivan Zoller of Ebenezer Elementary School hugs her lamb during practice for a show. She has been showing lambs for two years. - photo by Photo submitted
As a former Effingham County showman myself, I can tell you that — looking back on my experience — the plaques and ribbons I won at the county fair mean much more to me than any won at other area or state shows.
Ashley Sapp, Ebenezer Middle School agriculture teacher and FFA advisor

SPRINGFIELD — COVID-19 doesn’t care who it hurts.

The contagious respiratory disease has taken the lives of nearly 900,000 people around the world and robbed millions of others of their livelihood. It has also cost countless sports fans opportunities to cheer for their favorite team.

At the very least, virtually everyone on the planet has had to deal with some sort of inconvenience because of the virus.

Locally, COVID-19 prompted the cancellation of the 77th Effingham County Fair set Oct. 15-24. The decision, prompted by social distancing guidelines, wiped out the highly popular livestock shows associated with the event.

“I hate to be the one to tell the news,” Effingham County Fair Association President Grady Rahn said after making the August cancellation announcement. “I also hate that I had to make that decision because it hurt.”

Taylor Lucas, the junior vice president of the Effingham County High School FFA Chapter, was stunned by the news. She participated in the Effingham County Fair Goat Show last year.

“When I first heard that the fair and livestock show was cancelled, I was extremely disappointed,” Lucas said. “That is a major event not just for me but the livestock showmen in general. It is a time where showmen can invite their family to come to a local show and in their spare time catch up while riding roller coasters and what not.”

Effingham County Middle School FFA President Emma Connelly, and eighth grader, expressed similar thoughts.

“I was sad that I could not show my goats and be at the fair all week,” she said.  

Effingham County High School Vice President Breanna Harris, a sophomore, had mixed feelings about the cancellation.

“I heard that the Effingham County Fair was going to be cancelled,” she said. “I was in shock, like, ‘Wow! Is this really happening?

“I didn’t think that this would be the case but I was OK with the fact because my show steer that I was supposed to have this year had just died of kidney failure. Then I looked at it as if I still had my show calf and how devastated I would have been if I had spent months working on my calf. 

“The more I thought about it — I felt bad for my fellow showmen that had been working forever with their projects, especially the seniors that would have had all their friends and family set to come and watch their final show at the county fair.”

Ebenezer Middle School agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Ashley Sapp deeply appreciates Harris’ sentiment.

As a former Effingham County showman myself, I can tell you that — looking back on my experience — the plaques and ribbons I won at the county fair mean much more to me than any won at other area or state shows.”

 The livestock shows at the Effingham County Fair rank highly with Amanda Zoller, too. She is the mother of pre-K participant Victoria Zoller.

“The local county show is one of favorite shows,” Mrs. Zoller said. “Our family and close friends can watch Vivian show her lambs and also see the work that she has put into them to get them to this point in her show career. I feel Vivian does better in front of family and friends instead of strangers.”

The Effingham County Fair is Connelly’s favorite even though it brings her annual trepidation. She is a seven-year livestock show veteran.

“It does make me nervous because I want to do good in the showing ring in front of everyone and show my goat to it’s best potential,” she said.

Ebenezer Middle School eighth-grader Allison Smith said she remains calm when she shows cattle at the Effingham County Fair.

“In my opinion, the bigger shows have more competition but I like the shows at home because we have more people that we know there to cheer us on,” she said. “I don’t really get nervous when showing in front of my friends and family because I’m always focused on the judge and my cows.”

Smith lives the challenge of preparing a steer or heifer for shows.

“Some people think that showing animals is pretty easy,” she said. “They believe that we can take them out of the field and straight into the ring.  It’s so much more than that!

“You have to pick the animal that you want, earn the animal’s trust and they have to earn your trust. We have to work with our animals to teach them what we need for them to do.

“It is definitely hard work! I am proud of my hard work and I love all of the support that I get from my friends and family.”

Mrs. Zoller said showing livestock is beneficial to her daughter in several ways.

“Vivian will tell you that it is fun and she loves bonding with her animals as well as making new friends in the barn,” she said. “Showing livestock is an humbling and very rewarding experience for a child as well as the parents. Showing livestock teaches the 4-H and FFA members  how to take care of something besides themselves.

“Vivian knows that the lambs get fed and get fresh water before she sits down and enjoys her meal. It also teaches kids about the livestock industry and how the industry plays a huge factor in our daily lives.

“My husband, Andy Zoller, and myself showed cattle from elementary school up to our senior year of high school and we both agree that showing livestock played a huge factor in our lives. We are excited that Vivian is the third generation of livestock showers on both sides of our families and hope that her brother, Rahn, will also continue the tradition for the Zittrouer-Zoller families.”

Harris’ livestock interests have changed over the years.

“When I was in third grade, we got goats and all that I wanted was to have baby goats,” she said. “My mom said that FFA would allow me to be able to have baby goats so my little determined self stuck to that and we had baby goats my sixth-grade year.

“Soon I fell in love with the idea of doing CDEs (FFA competitions) and I went to livestock evaluation competition. That’s when I realized that I wanted to show a goat.  

“Well, the kind of goat that I had was not the breed of goat that you show competitively in FFA so I had to get a new goat. Then the following year, I begged to show cattle even though I already had a goat to show for that year.

“To my surprise, I got a steer for my birthday and from then on I was hooked on showing cattle.”

Despite the loss of the 2020 fair livestock shows, the local showmen will still get a chance to show their skills to a hometown crowd.   The Effingham County School District’s agriculture teachers established the Effingham County Livestock Extravaganza set at Honey Ridge Plantation on Oct. 17.

“After many long days and hot hours of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, it will be rewarding to see the students exhibit their animals at Honey Ridge Agricenter in such a positive environment,” Effingham County FFA Advisor Meredith Arrington said. “A little bit of normalcy is the least we can offer these students during these unprecedented times.”

Sapp said the decision to give the students another show option — backed fully by the Effingham County Board of Education — was an easy one to make.

“This is an awesome opportunity for our kids to show off their projects, and for family and friends to come see them exhibit their animals,” Sapp said. “We hope that the community will come out and support this event and these students as this will be the moment that many of them have been working for since last spring.”

Lucas is grateful the she and her fellow 4-H and FFA members are supported by their teachers and the board of education.

“I think the Honey Ridge show is a great idea,” she said. “It shows that the agriculture teachers of Effingham County truly have a passion for their profession and a love for their showmen, by taking out their personal time to create an event for students to display all the hard work put into their livestock. Not to mention that it’s a great public event at an absolutely gorgeous location.”