PALMETTO -- Minutes after placing first in senior showmanship Wednesday night at the Manatee County Fair Steer Show, Alyssa Riggio said she was definitely surprised.
The 18-year-old from West Bradenton said she then thought about all the hard work that went into this moment.
"What makes a champion is all the hard work you put in at home and all the effort," she said. "It's not what happens in the ring. It's what happens behind the scenes."
Riggio was one of nine Manatee County students who placed in the Steer Showmanship Show. Separated into 11 classes, 73 students competed.
From each class, finalists made it to the final round of each category -- eight in intermediate, seven in junior and nine in senior.
More than 140 people sat on bleachers inside the Mosaic Arena at the Manatee County Fairgrounds to watch competitors lead steers around a large, circular pen. Some struggled with their meaty steers, while others masterfully walked beside them slowly, making eye contact with judge Rick Ahrens, an agricultural science teacher at Hernando High School in Brooksville.
"It's about these kids. As an ag teacher, I see my kids at school 5:30, 6 o'clock in the morning," Ahrens told the crowd before announcing the senior showmanship winners. "You folks are probably the same, working these animals. ... these kids are making a difference."
Several surly steers did not like being led and their moos constantly rose above the crowd's chatter.
A beaming Peytton Yancey, who placed third in intermediate showmanship, said she felt "amazing." The 13-year-old's hand carried a large white ribbon.
The R. Dan Nolan Middle School eighth-grader said it was hard to
care for her steer everyday after school.
"When he called me out, I was surprised," Peytton said with a wide smile.
Colton Cone, a sixth-grader from Nolan Middle School, described being nervous before the steer show began. As he stood beside his steer, the 13-year-old said it was a lot of fun to raise him. Colton named the steer Hudson because it's a "bold name."
"I had to feed him, walk him, brush him, wash him, blow dry him," Colton said. "That's a lot of fun because when you wash him, he moves his tail and he'll get you wet sometimes and it's pretty funny, too."
Colton's father, Jon Cone, looked on proudly. The 36-year-old Myakka City resident said it takes courage for the students to hold ropes tied to steers weighing 1,000 pounds or more.
"It reminds me of when I was kid because I did the same thing and it's kind of a tradition," Cone said. "I did it, my wife did it and now my son's doing it."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.