Ohio State Fair sale of champions shatters records

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COLUMBUS – During the 2002 Ohio State Fair sale of champions, Bailey Creager grinned ear to ear when she held her older sister Taylor’s grand champion market barrow banner.

The two had worked together on the project all summer, along with their brother, Mason. It was a major win for the entire family, buried knee-deep in swine show ring sawdust and in the world of hog genetics.

The young trio decided to split the winnings – a state cap limited Meijer’s top bid of $20,000, paying $8,000 to the siblings – like they had done with their grand champion in 2000.

But shortly after the fair, questions arose. The state department of agriculture disqualified Taylor’s animal when a minute piece of testicular cord was found in the hog on the rail.

The news came just six weeks before the 2003 state fair, devastating the Creagers.

The state asked Taylor to return the purple banner. The family was stunned and the siblings never added to their college education funds.

Made right. But in some small way, things were made right again this year, when little Bailey Creager took the ring at the sale of champions Aug. 13.

Fred, her home-bred and -raised project, grabbed grand champion barrow honors and fetched a $20,000 bid from Meijer.

The siblings all smiled – Bailey driving her bluebutt hog, Taylor and Mason clutching the banner and champion ribbon close – as auctioneer Johnny Regula’s gavel fell.

“I really glad I won for my dad and sister,” Creager said, referring to the tarnished reputation the disqualification caused.

And for the 9-year-old, the win meant more. It was sweet victory and the reward for hours spent each day exercising and rinsing the animal, plus absorbing knowledge about the industry.

This was Bailey Creager’s first year of eligibility in the junior show. She was the outstanding exhibitor for all 9-year-olds who exhibited at the fair.

Not a fluke. The Creager family uses elite genetics on their Fulton County farm, selling litters of show pigs each year across the country.

The sisters exhibited three of the top 12 hogs at the state fair show, claiming the top spots in the crossbred and Hampshire categories with homegrown hogs, and winning the Chester White breed category with a hog purchased out-of-state.

‘A relief.’ “This win was such a relief. It’s been a long time coming,” Todd Creager said, watching visitors pet and giggle at his daughter’s hog in the champion’s tent at the state fair.

“A lot of people have really supported us through all of this,” he said, mentioning a petition was circulated in the hog barn with hopes of changing the rule that disqualified last year’s champion.

The rule is part of Ohio’s Livestock Show Reform Act, put into play in 1995 after state fair champions were found injected with illegal substances.

Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Dailey, who helped as a ringman during the auction, previously said he believed Taylor Creager’s violation was unintentional.

Out of the game. Despite the support the family got from fellow exhibitors, Todd and Patti Creager haven’t changed their decision to pull their daughters from next year’s competition.

“This year was mentally and physically exhausting for all of us, with everything going on. It took a lot of motivation to get the girls here this year, with the pressure they’d be facing,” he said.

While he admits three champions in four years is pretty impressive, Creager knows the reality and humility of the show ring.

“Maybe it’s time to step back and give other people the same opportunities these girls have been given,” he conceded.

Back at it. ‘Creager’ wasn’t the only surname familiar to sale of champions buyers.

Show ring veteran Molly Gehret from Anna, Ohio, held the reserve champion market barrow spot. Other Gehrets – Katie and Emily – have shown champion barrows at the state fair.

And, like Creager, Molly Gehret knows what’s what in hog genetics. Her family raised the boar and sow her reserve champion crossbred was out of, a move that gave her a good idea what her barrow would look like come weigh-in.

The two champions topped a field of 825 hogs.

Gehret’s record-setting bid of $16,150 came from Amusements of America and Huffman’s Market. The previous record was $15,000.

Instead of ending the bidding war with an even number, the two buyers added the extra $150 in honor of the state fair’s 150 anniversary.

Poultry picks. The sale kicked off when 11-year-old Lindsay Voge of Preble County carried her pen of champion chickens onto the blue carpet.

Her pen of chickens topped 54 others shown, narrowly defeating others by slight differences in the length and width of the breast.

Though the final bid came in well under the $18,000 record, cheers erupted when a new buyer won the bidding. Amick Farms, a poultry firm based in Batesburg, S.C., paid $11,000 for Voge’s project.

Repeat attraction. A real pro in the poultry industry, 18-year-old Patrick Nolan made his fourth appearance in the sale of champions with this year’s reserve champion pen of broilers.

In his last time on the blue carpet, Nolan paused to reflect on the changes he’s seen in the industry during his show years.

The main change he’s seen, he said, is markets driving producers to grow bigger birds faster.

That change was evident this year when Nolan and fellow exhibitors were expected to add an extra pound to each bird in their pen – with one less week to do it.

Nolan met the challenge, and buyer Nelson Auto Group recognized that when they bid $8,300 for the pen.

Nolan, who exhibited the grand champions in 2001, 1998 and 1996, holds the record bid of $18,000 for the poultry project.

Dreams come true. The 2003 Ohio State Fair saw its share of new records set, and they weren’t all related to sale prices.

This year’s junior fair sheep show, with 1,035 animals shown, was the largest ever at the fair.

Topping that heap of sheep was a purebred Hampshire shown by 17-year-old Ryan Daulton of Brown County.

Daulton said he hoped for the best when he chose the 2-week-old lamb on a Kentucky farm. His choice was a good one – the lamb was champion at three other shows this summer.

“He’s been a real good sheep,” he said of his 133-pounder. “This is a dream come true. I’ve wanted to win state fair all my life,” Daulton said.

Daulton said he’d save his share of Kroger’s $20,000 bid to pay for a future education at Ohio State and to build his own flock of prize-winning sheep.

Anticipation. The hubbub of fair activities was distraction during the long wait for reserve champion lamb exhibitor Curtis Bickel.

The 15-year-old from Clinton County showed his lamb Aug. 1, the fair’s opening day, and had been passing time for nearly two weeks waiting for his turn in the champions’ sale ring.

Tending to his 130-pounder in the fair’s champion livestock tent only built anticipation. A similar anticipation built when Bickel took to the sale ring.

Bidders volleyed back and forth, ringmen coaxing them along the way, until a final and record-setting bid of $13,000 was registered by Kale Marketing of Richwood and the Ohio Horse Racing Commission.

The new record is $500 above the mark set in 2001.

Visions of steaks … Grocery giant Kroger opened the bidding at $25,000 for the grand champion market steer, shown by Trent Printz of Darke County.

The steer’s last stop marked a string of wins beginning at jackpot shows in December. The steer was named grand champion five times and reserve champion twice in the past year.

“You can really appreciate this calf. He’s got such a big top on him, he’d more than cover anyone’s fine china,” said sale auctioneer Johnny Regula.

Bidders surely imagined juicy steaks as they waged war in a fast-paced bidding battle. Steve Rauch Excavation and Demolition of Dayton prevailed with a final bid of $45,000.

Nineteen-year-old Printz was also named market beef outstanding exhibitor, a reward for all-around excellence with the project.

… Danced in their heads. Bidding was markedly slower when Greene County’s Blake Campbell, known affectionately as ‘Opie’ by other exhibitors, took the sale ring.

After a delayed start, Amick Farms offered a bid of $17,500 if the Ohio State Fair Marching Band, which provided entertainment during the sale, would perform Ohio State University’s fight song. Bidding continued.

Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley participated in her first sale of champions this year, stepping in to replace Gov. Bob Taft.

A move that had previously been Taft’s trademark – offering the tie from his neck to entice a buyer to open their checkbooks further – was copied successfully by Bradley when she offered her favorite scarf from around her neck, plus the neckties of two ringmen, to log a final record bid of $25,150 from Kroger.

Campbell, who grinned sheepishly during his time in the sale ring, has been showing heifers, steers, feeder calves and sheep since age 9.

His steer show win was well-deserved, Regula said, noting Campbell’s family has been in the cattle business for years. His grandfather, Jim Campbell, currently serves as president of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.

Youth reserve program. In 1995, the fair’s youth reserve program instituted caps on the amount exhibitors can earn from their livestock sale.

Exhibitor caps are champion steer, $20,000; reserve, $8,000; champion barrow, $8,000; reserve, $5,000; champion lamb, $8,000; reserve, $5,000; and champion chickens, $5,000; reserve, $3,000.

Funds over and above cap amounts – $96,600 this year – will be distributed among other young exhibitors for carcass contests, scholarships, the outstanding market exhibitor program, breeding, showmanship, skillathons, dairy cattle, 4-H and FFA.

Scholarships. Local recipients of junior fair scholarships this year, including their project area, are Carmen Howard, Medina, swine breeding; Bethany Frew, Carrollton, market lamb; Patrick Nolan, Wakeman, poultry; and Jason West, North Olmstead, horses.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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