DE SOTO, Ill. — It looked like recess when I first walked into the De Soto Grade School gymnasium for the Jackson County 4-H General Show.
Nearly 50 kids and parents were pinging around the gym to 120 projects on display, playing tag or staring into a smartphone.
All it took to bring this fun bunch to quiet was 4-H Coordinator Becky Needham stepping in front of the bleachers to share last-minute instructions.
“Judges will call your name when it’s your turn,” she told them.
That’s when I anxiously looked at the bulging folder of forms I was given when I checked in. Inside were score sheets for Becky, critique forms for the entrants, a project card, Illinois State Fair qualifier instructions and a giant handful of the coveted ribbons. I also had a copy of the judge’s instructions that I had studied several times beforehand.
I was wowed from my first entrant and then continually amazed to the last one. Not only did each project come in with qualified presentations, these young people were enthusiastically prepared to share the tiniest details, as well as their inspirations and aspirations.
All of a sudden, all of that nervous energy built up by the kids running around the gym was laser-focused on trees, soybeans, vegetable gardens, hiking and creative writing. I ended up leaving the gym excited for each of the 4-Hers I met and knowing that all of their 4-H experiences are helping shape their futures.
So, if you go to Springfield, be sure to look for the 17 Jackson County entrants — they all are blue-ribbon winners already.