Howard County Fair 2011

Logan O'Connell, 8, of Dayton cradles his cat, Sparky, before the start of the pretty animal contest at the Howard County Fair on Aug. 8. O'Connell dressed Sparky as a cow and took home the "most creative" award for his costume. (Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / August 7, 2011)

Despite scattered bouts of driving rain, opening weekend at the 66th annual Howard County Fair was a lively whirl of rides, contests, music and showcases.

For some, it was more of a whirl than others.

On Sunday, Aug. 7, 6-year-old Jordan Bell was whirling with the kind of carefree joy a day at the fair can inspire in someone his age. As his family sat at a nearby picnic table, Jordan danced and twirled to the sounds of the Marching Ravens band, the team's official, all-volunteer group.

Around him, families ate hot dogs, sloppy Joes and funnel cake as they listened. One spectator imitated the drum major's conducting moves. And Bell spun around, pausing only occasionally for a freeze dance move or two.

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Half an hour later and across the street in the show pavilion, much less musical sounds were coming from the entrants in the Pretty Animal competition. Dressed in tutus and ribbons, Katie the Sweet Dreams Sheep "baa-ed" loudly as she stood before the judges. She and owner Taryn Schwartz, 6, of Glenwood, won the prize for most creative costume.

Taryn, who wore a cut-out of a tooth around her neck to go with her tooth fairy theme, said her favorite part of the fair was "leaving [Katie] in her pen because she's so loud."

Katie had her own plans, though. Before she got back to her pen, she decided to do some celebrating. Breaking free from Taryn, she dashed out of the pavilion for a victory lap before her owners caught up with her.

In the pens, Sara Michalski, a fifth-grader from Woodbine, was taking care of her own sheep. Michalski, who joined the 4-H Club a year ago, was one of dozens of Howard County youths scattered throughout the fair wearing lime green shirts that identified them as members of the club, which emphasizes leadership and personal responsibility through raising livestock, woodworking, baking and other practical skills.

Sara said her parents and other family members were 4-H'ers before her, and she called the experience "good but challenging." She planned on spending her days at the fair feeding, washing and shearing her charges.

Focus on pigs

Makenzie Hareth, 9, of Woodbine, had her focus on pigs. A 4-H member for five years, she brought three of her pigs to the fair with her. She said she rarely leaves the barn to check out the rest of the fair because the pigs keep her so busy. "You have to wash them every hour on the hour," she said.

Eleanor Brown, 15, and Chris and Sean Winter, 16-year-old twins, spend their days at the fair in a different environment: standing over a vat making fried dough. A fair staple for more than 30 years, the Glenelg marching band has sold the treat — dusted with powdered sugar, cinnamon or a combination of the two — as a way of raising money for trips and uniforms.

Eleanor, Chris and Sean, all band members, said they spend about four hours a day deep-frying dough. As for what it's like to be in such close quarters with his twin for that time, "No comment," was all Sean would say, with a smile.

The group makes about $5,000 to $6,000 each season selling fried dough, according to Cathleen Winter, band president and co-chair of the dough stand.

Five years ago, a little competition got started.. Right next door, the Marriotts Ridge Booster Club set up their own stand, a blue booth where they sell fried Oreos. Booth coordinator Rob Littlejohn said he got the idea from visiting the fair and seeing the success of the Glenelg group.

Littlejohn, who built the booth himself, said he and his wife were at first met with incredulity when they pitched the idea of selling fried Oreos as a fundraiser. "[The booster board] looked at us like we had 10 heads or something," he said.

But the rich treats have quickly become a fair favorite. Littlejohn said he was greeted opening day by a couple standing outside the booth, waiting for it to open. They said they had looked forward to eating the Oreos all year.

As for whether there's a rivalry between the two stands, that depends on whom you ask.

Anna Safren, a senior at Marriotts Ridge and captain of the Poms squad, said she thought it was tough to compete with her stand's fried fare. "It's not a competition. We have everything they have and more," she joked, pointing out that the Oreos were covered in the type of fried dough sold by the marching band.

"We offer the best product," countered Karen Brown, a parent volunteer at the Glenelg stand. But Winter said it was all friendly competition. "We have a lot of fun. We share and help each other," she said.