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Manatee County Fair contestants take dairy show to heart

PALMETTO -- There were nerves, a bit of apprehension, even a few tears during the dairy show Friday at the Manatee County Fair.

But not for Luke LeClair, a youngster who was showing a Jersey calf.

As he waited to take his calf into the ring and and be evaluated by judge Benjamin Newberry, he fidgited on one foot, then the other, and finally on both of them, as he looked around.

When his number was called, Luke walked his calf up to Newberry, who said something to the child.

Luke locked eyes with the judge and his face lit up in a big smile.

The crowd roared and applauded, moved by the little boy's spirit and bravery.

"Luke would like to have some competition, but he did like the cheers," Newberry announced.

Newberry then praised Luke's calf, calling it a great project.

"This young man, he's having a blast, and that's all that matters," Newberry said.

As Luke left the ring, he told one friend, "That was easy," and he high-fived another.

Each of the 127 animals and their young caretakers received a ribbon during the show that went late into the night.

Zack Bonds, a Braden River High School student, was wrangling the contestants, making sure they were lined up at the right place at the right time.

"You get the young kids out there and you can see them light up the arena," Bonds said.

Dakin Dairy provided many of the dairy calves to the contestants, who helped raise the animals, and ultimately became their friends. After the show, many of the calves eventually return to the dairy. "If it wasn't for the Dakins, this show could not be done," Bonds said.

Newberry was generous with his praise for both the youngsters and the calves.

"Very nice calf, congratulations," he told one of the contestants.

"Beautiful square-cut calf. A beautiful, beautiful example of what we are looking for in a Holstein," he told another.

Collin LeClair, 11, said the best thing about the dairy show is the responsibility it teaches him.

Brandon Pridgen, a Lincoln Middle School student, said he was also showing in the swine, rabbit and plant shows. But he had special affection for his Holstein calf.

"I like spending time with her before she goes back to the dairy," Brandon said. "I would like to start my own dairy some day."

Alexis Chamness, a 9-year-old Gullett Elementary School student, didn't hesitate when asked what was her favorite part of the dairy show.

"Diamond," Alexis said, and planted a kiss on her little calf's head.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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