It was a full house — or barn, rather — Sept. 30 as about 300 youth entered the Sheep and Goat Building and 4-H members and their guests were greeted by brightly colored canopies positioned around the room. Food tables had been erected beneath them. At the far end of the room traditional carnival games had been assembled, including a rubber ducky pool, ring toss, and football throw.
Why the festive colors and games, you might ask? After-all, the Howard County Fair occurs in August, not September. It was the annual 4-H Achievement Night as 4-H members gathered to hear how their record books from 2010 had faired in the county's judging.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with record books, let me summarize. 4-H members are required to keep records and assemble a record book each year on their 4-H projects. For each project, expenses, income, demonstrations, contests, winnings and learning experiences must be recorded.
A summary record packet must be completed including all activities that the youth was involved in both with 4-H and in the community. All demonstrations, contests, winnings need to be listed, as well as, all community service. 4-H members need to assemble photo pages with captions and a story about their year. Seniors also must type up a resume and write an essay on a given topic.
As you might imagine, this activity takes hours to complete. All of these forms and pages go into a record book that is submitted for judging each January. Awards are then presented the following fall to recognize successful completion of the books.
In judging, books are distinguished using the Danish system of blue being the highest quality. Books deemed not as complete as they should be are given either a red or white designation. The blue books are then judged again by project area. Awards are then presented to individuals who are picked as having submitted blue quality work in each project area.
The evening began by presenting certificates and premiums to those earning the project awards. Those earning the blue book distinction, but not earning an award in specific project areas are also recognized. Following the record book awards, the various contest participants and judging teams competing at the county and state level are also recognized.
At the county level, there's the Visual Presentation contest, the Communications contest, the Fashion Revue and Healthy Lifestyles contest. At the state level, there's the Communications contest, the Fashion Revue and the Archery Match. These are all extra-curricular activities that 4-H'ers participate in along with their projects throughout the year.
People not involved in 4-H may be surprised by the number of teams that Howard County sends to state competition. There's Livestock Judging, Rabbit Judging, and Horse Judging teams. There's Dog Bowl, Horse Bowl, Hippology and the Livestock Skill-A-Thon. All the kids who participate in these activities are recognized.
When the last certificate is presented and the last award given, the fun begins. There are 27 different 4-H clubs in this county. Each year, three clubs are responsible for picking a theme and hosting this annual event. This year, Spur and Stirrup, Sunshine 4-H Club and Patapsco Valley 4-H Club selected a carnival theme.
When the awards were completed, 4-H'ers made a beeline for the food tables. Popcorn, hotdogs, nachos and cheese, and cotton candy were offered for the evening's fare. Throughout the building, groups of friends reconnected, catching-up with the latest news. Others tried their hand at the various games.
Gradually, 4-H'ers and their families left to take care of home responsibilities and to get a good night sleep. The host clubs cleaned up after another successful evening.
The annual Achievement Night always feels like an ending to me. It's really the conclusion of the 2010 4-H year. It's also, though, a beginning. Next month, 4-H'ers will again begin the process of assembling their record books for this year.
I know from experience as a parent, it is not a process that most 4-H'ers look forward to, no more than I look forward to completing my tax returns. It's a requirement however, something you have to do. So 4-H'ers will all sit down over the next two months to do the work, hoping to get a blue award at next year's awards ceremony. I wonder what the theme will be next year?