This Week’s Column: “Life Lessons From the Sale of Champions”

Sunday was the “bid” day at the Ohio State Fair. The Sale of Champions Junior Livestock Auction is the capstone event of the Fair’s 12-day run. After spending most of the day at the Fair for each of the Fair’s 12 days, Lindsay and I are as excited about the Sale as anything we do all year long. This year the sale raised nearly $125,000 for the Youth Reserve Program, which benefits thousands of fair exhibitors each year through Scholarships and fair awards.



The Sale of Champions is in its fourth decade. Its evolution is a fascinating history in and of itself, migrating from Cooper Arena, to the Coliseum, and now to the Celeste Center. Featuring the legendary auctioneer Merlin Woodruff of Urbana, and now my friend Johnny Regula of Ostrander, one of the best livestock auctioneers in the country, the sale is the biggest event in junior fair livestock marketing in the country as far as I’m concerned. Other States and Shows have emulated the concept, selling the Grand and Reserve Grand Champions in each species for astounding bids, but Ohio’s Sale combines something very special because these Champions could win anywhere in America.



Ohio’s State Fair is one of the most competitive in the country. Each year I interview the judges that evaluate these animals, and the stories they share and the comments they make let you know how tough it is to grab the banner in Columbus. Take for example the Market Barrow show: Raven Crawford of Adams County won Grand Champion honors this year; to do so, she surpassed nearly two dozen other hogs in the Final Drive of the show, who each had won their own breed or division, beating out dozens of other hogs in the process. In total, it takes two judges two days to sift those hogs – that’s pretty stiff competition.



The stories that come from the Sale make it a special event, as well. Take 14-year old Branden DeFrank of Jefferson County. Branden won the Grand Champion Market Steer banner with an animal he’d been raising and showing for nearly a year. The two most fascinating stories about his journey to the Sale of Champions are first that his sister sold the Grand Champion steer at last year’s Sale, making them the first back to back brother/sister Champions in Sale history. Secondly, he spent the entire winter show season competing with his friend Grant McIntosh of Brown County. They went head to head at six shows, and each young man took home three banners, making the Ohio State Fair the final tiebreaker!



While Branden won, Grant exhibited the Reserve Champion, so these two friendly competitors sold their steers back to back in the Sale of Champions, and the excitement among them and genuine happiness for each other’s success was obvious.



Another great story in this year’s Sale was our returning Champions: four out of eight exhibitors made at least their second appearance in the Sale ring! Kara McCarthy of Wyandot County, exhibitor of the Grand Champion pen of meat chickens, is arguably the most consistent of the group, as she has showed either Grand or Reserve Champion chickens at the Fair four times in her 4-H experience! Kara is a great ambassador for her project and fellow 4-H and FFA members, and will be heading to Ohio State this fall to study Food Science. Audrey Neal of Wyandot County sold our Reserve Champion Market Lamb this year, making two years in a row she’s been in the Top 2; Audrey will also attend The Ohio State University this fall, studying Agribusiness. In fact, she told us during our LIVE television broadcast of the Sale that her earnings from the lamb would be heading straight to OSU to pay for her education!



Taylor Banbury of Knox County made her return to the Sale of Champions, though this was her first as the seller; last year she held the banner for her twin sister Madison who was one of our Champions. 2009 marked eight straight years of the Banbury sisters making the Sale of Champions. They may be quiet young ladies, but they’re “livin’’ for the ribbon” as Taylor told me following her victory, “spending more time in the barn than in the house” through the summer months. Reserve Champion Market Barrow exhibitor Alex Vaughan of Clinton County is our final returning Champion, having made her way to the Winner’s Circle a few years ago. She’s grown up quite a bit since then, but is clearly as focused on success in the show ring as she was during her first year in the Sale Ring.



Sarah Johnson of Clinton County rounded out our Gang of Eight Champions. An effervescent young lady, she and her younger brother battled it out for Champion honors. He didn’t go home sour grapes, however, showing the Grand Champion Turkey at the State Fair isn’t half bad, and I could tell he was as excited about her win as he was about his own. That, perhaps, is the best story of all about the Sale of Champions: it takes a family to win.



Each exhibitor we met had a tremendous support system around them; Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, Grandparents, 4-H and FFA Advisors, and fellow junior fair exhibitors cheering them on, all helped drive these eight young people to the pinnacle of their “sport.” The most amazing thing, however, is that these eight Champions represented over two thousand exhibitors at the Ohio State Fair livestock shows, and tens of thousands of their counterparts at County fairs across the state. Each project represents a family’s commitment to teaching a child the value of hard work, the importance of a shared goal and achievement, and the reward of an honest day’s labor. These values are the backbone of our society, and why agriculture is still our state and nation’s most essential industry.