CANTON  The Stark County Fair wrapped up its 168th year on Sept. 4 with another successful year. While the food, fun, rides, live entertainment and other goings on garner much attention over the weeklong fair, the kids and teenagers from the many 4-H Clubs work hard, compete even harder and as such, deserve their own level of attention. 

Most of the animal barns on the fairgrounds house animals being shown by local 4-H members. Rabbits, goats, cows, swine, sheep and horses abound at the fair every year, and not far away from the animals are the students and club members caring for them. Some of the students prepare all year to show their work at the fair.

This year’s theme was "Party Till the Animals Come Home." Each of the local clubs had its own display area using the theme inside the Junior Fair 4-H building.

David C. Crawford is the Stark County Extension Director and 4-H Educator for Portage County and Interim Director for The Ohio State University Extension office located on the R.G. Drage campus in Massillon. He wrote in an email interview that the Stark County 4-H Youth Program has more than 1,000 youth in club programs and more than 250 youth in school or learning activities. 

"There are more than 250 adult volunteer 4-H advisors who provide leadership and learning to 4-H members through clubs, committee and activity opportunities," Crawford wrote. "Annually, our Stark County 4-H members participate in more than 2,300 4-H projects. Youth are able to participate in more than one 4-H project in most clubs. Stark County Jr. Fair annually provides opportunity for more than 750 project entries."

The 4-H and livestock and animal projects are year-round responsibilities. Crawford wrote that 4-H youth and their families spend countless hours selecting, raising, caring, grooming, feeding, practice showing and completing project member guidelines.

"The 4-H advisors also spend countless hours, preparing for club meetings, educational experiences, meeting many guidelines and learning many rules. That’s in addition to the time spent with youth members and families. The 4-H Jr. and Sr. Fair volunteers truly began thinking and planning for 2018 BEFORE the current fair is over," Crawford wrote.  "That is why we love our 4-H volunteers. There just wouldn’t be a 4-H Youth Program without our 4-H volunteers and advisors."

Many Stark County 4-H families camp on the fair grounds. Crawford wrote that the Stark County Fair provides a challenge for school-aged youth because most school districts start before or during fair week. The 4-H members and families must meet both school and 4-H Jr. Fair requirements, which can sometimes be a "juggling-act."

"This shows tremendous ability by our youth and families to be able to positively communicate and prioritize with both school administrators and fair schedules. Each school district has its own requirements and expectations for students who are 4-H members attending the fair," Crawford wrote.

Club members spend every day of the fair getting themselves and their animals ready. From washing and grooming to practicing in the showrings, the animals and their handlers are getting ready for the showring.

Bridget Dalton was walking her goat, Moose, along with Samantha Easterday and her goat, Houdini. Both are members of the Clover Valley Variety 4-H club, both are from Waynesburg and both have Southern Connection goats.

Easterday said her goat placed fifth this year. She said the judges look for features such as muscle and a straight line along the back.

"I usually look for the biggest goat and one I think will show well when I go to buy a new goat," Easterday said. "Then it’s a matter of taking good care of them, working with them daily. We walk them and try to get them used to positioning their feet," she said.

Madelynn Zerber, of Massillon, is a member of the Country Crew 4-H club. She was exercising her miniature pony in the arena during the afternoon of Aug. 31.

"The pony’s name is Moonshine and he’s about a year old, I have three others here for showing," Zerber said. "Moonshine will get just a bit bigger. He has one blue eye and one brown. The ponies are too small for riding but they can be hand shown and they can drive a cart."

Rachel, a three-year-old Himalayan rabbit, and her owner Averie Elsass, who goes to Jackson High School and belongs to the Twitchers 4-H club, won best of show on Wednesday.

The Himalayan rabbit is the one of the oldest and calmest breeds. It’s a mid-sized breed with a white body that has color points such as black, blue, chocolate and lilac.

"I’ve been showing rabbits with 4-H for a long time, this year I have 23 rabbits here and many have placed in different competitions," Elsass said.