Anything that has diving mules, racing pigs, or extra heads or tails does well at a county fair.
In Manatee County though, the real star attractions are the youth events, everything from the cheerleading contest to the steer show.
A few days ago, we even received an e-mail from a reader in Paris (Tennessee, not France) wanting to know more about the steer show and sale.
For the record, there were 59 steers shown by local youngsters this year with Zachary Quattlebaum of Myakka City winning the grand champion award for his steer, Apollo. Allyssa Johnson, of the Myakka All Stock team, won the reserve champion award.
Danny Alfonso, barn superintendent for the steer sale, said the number of steers were down this year, in part due to the difficult economy and in part because youngsters today are really busy and there are many things vying for their attention.
In peak years, more than 100 steers have been shown.
Alfonso carried away several memories from this year’s steer show and sale, including the guts and grit shown by 8-year-old Parker Oler, a Freedom Elementary School student.
“He got dragged around pretty good by his calf in the show, but he hung in there. He has a big heart,” Alfonso said.
Parker, “who probably doesn’t weigh 60 pounds even with rocks in his pocket,” showed a steer weighing 1,087 pounds, Alfonso said.
Another standout for Alfonso was first-year exhibitor Wyatt Fulghum, a student at Southeast High School who is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program.
Wyatt took third place in senior showmanship, a tough thing to do for any first-time exhibitor.
On average, the youngsters took home $2.80 a pound for their steers, well above the market price.
“If I could say any one thing, it would be a huge thank you to the buyers who came out and supported our kids. They support and love our kids year in and year out,” Alfonso said.
Speaking of support- ing kids, Jason McKendree, cattle manager for SMR Farms, said his company bought steers raised by Lakewood Ranch students Daniel Walker and Libby Spence, and will serve the beef at the Lake- wood Ranch Country Club.
One of the SMR board members wanted to know why SMR beef wasn’t on the menu at the country club.
Now it will be, McKendree said.
“We’ve got Lakewood Ranch High School kids showing Lakewood Ranch cattle going back into the country club,” McKendree said.
Diving mules and racing pigs are big attractions at a fair. So is good weather. Of course, good weather for the Manatee County Fair is as rare as extra heads on goats and rabbits.
But when good weather arrives, it can produce record attendance.
This year, with the customary bad weather, attendance was up just a tad from last year.
Fair manager Dan West estimated the turnout at 146,300 this year.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.