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THE ART OF SHOWMANSHIP

Students put their best hog (rooster or sheep) forward for the county fair.

What does a volleyball have in common with a hog? Not much, one might think. But when it comes to learning to guide a hog through a show ring under the watchful eye of a county or state fair judge, the volleyball sure comes in handy.

For Jessica Balderstone, 12, and Jessica McLeod, 11, gently tapping the sides of a borrowed volleyball with a cane-shaped driving tool was part of an afterschool lesson to hone their showmanship techniques for the upcoming county fair.

"Remember, tap on the right shoulder if you want them to go left. Keep eye contact with the judge. Keep an eye on your pig. Keep an eye on where everyone else is - no crossing over," agriculture teacher Tracy Weaver told her students as they moved their balls around on the grassy field outside her portable classroom.

While practicing this exercise with real pigs on the Centennial Middle School campus would be ideal, the balls would have to do. The Jessicas' hogs, a Hampshire cross named "Baby" and another one called "Wilbur," weren't available for the after-school lesson. Both pigs were penned at the sixth-graders' homes.

"You really don't want to move them this close to fair time," Weaver explained, because "230 pounds is minimum weight (to show hogs)." Agitating them in any way could cause them to lose weight and perhaps cost her students a ribbon and some cash when it comes time to auction the animals.

This year, about 15 students in the blossoming agriculture program at Centennial Middle will show poultry, hogs, horses, rabbits, sheep and steers, as well as begonias and other plants started from cuttings in the classroom greenhouse.

That has students putting in extra time for hands-on lessons in showmanship. They also have updated the required record books, keeping an accurate tally on the costs of raising animals, from feed to worming costs, as well as the animal's history: birth date, purchase date and price and initial weight.

"This is a big deal," Weaver said of Florida's February fair season.

That's true for students like her son, sixth-grader Louis Pinkston, 11, who has been showing a rooster named Frankie at the fair for a few years now.

"He did pretty good last year. He got a third place," said Louis, who plans to enter Frankie in the county fair again this year.

Jessica Balderstone, on the other hand, is new to the show ring and has mixed feelings about Baby possibly going off for slaughter, now that she has cared for the hog for about six months.

"I like farming and agriculture," she said. "But I'll probably be sad."

FAST FACTS

Twice the fun

The Florida State Fair starts Thursday and runs for 12 days at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 U.S. 301, Tampa. For information, call toll-free, 1-800-345-3247 or visit floridastatefair.net.

The Pasco County Fair isFeb. 18-24 at the Pasco County Fairgrounds, 36722 State Road 52, Dade City. To kick off the first day on Feb. 18, an unlimited midway ride special will be offered for $15 plus gate admission. For information, visit www.pascocountyfair.com, call (352) 567-6678 or e-mail pascocountyfair@atlantic.net.

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