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.
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.
Volunteers at both booths had a front-row view of the opening parade on Sunday, as it marched right past their windows along Midway Boulevard. The Marching Ravens led the group, followed by a truck with future farmer and Miss Howard County Farm Bureau contestants, then an antique car and tractor and a fleet of fire trucks.
A block over, kids lined up to ride the rollercoaster, tilt-a-whirl, flying swings and more. Tamar Cloyd, of Columbia, watched as son Daniel, 4, rode the flying worm ride, smiling and laughing as it went around in circles.
But when he got off, he was nonchalant about the experience. When asked if the ride was fun, he shook his head. "He says that about every ride," Cloyd said, laughing.
Alaya Hawkins, 14, of Prince George's County, and Jasmyn Larson, 11, of Westminster, were much more excited after getting off the Fireball, a rollercoaster that loops several times before pausing at the top, suspending its passengers upside down for a few terrifying seconds. "That was awesome!" Alaya exclaimed. She and Larson said it was their first time at the Howard County Fair and they were looking forward to testing out all the rides.
T.J. Crimmins, 4, of Laytonsville, said his favorite rides were "the climbing thing and the rolling thing" — in other words, the funhouse. His dad, Jim Crimmins, said he liked to bring T.J. and daughter Gabby, 2, to the fair "because it's more manageable" than other local fairs. "It's a cute little fair," he said.
As the weekend wound down, the rain came back with a vengeance, rolling in swiftly on dark clouds. Families took shelter in the Kids and Critters barn, where children petted chicks, rabbits, llamas, a mini horse and more.
Cards attached to the pens shared fun facts about the animals: China has the most goats, while Texas has the most sheep, and a cow can smell a smell from five miles away.
Kaleigh Terwilliger, 4, of Elkridge, and brother Ervie, 7, were most captivated by the piglets, though. Ignoring the driving rain outside, Kaleigh bent down to pet a baby pig huddled against the side of the pen.
When the rain finally relented, fairgoers waded through ankle-deep puddles to get to their cars. Parents pushed strollers and carried sleeping children. A day at the fair, always action-packed, can take a lot out of you.
The fair, which opened Aug. 6, runs through Aug. 13.