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Local FFAers, 4-Hers flock to County Fair
Alissa Atchison
Alissa Atchison, a Ceres High School FFA senior who is in her third year of fair showing, was declared the reserve champion for her Duroc breed of swine. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The Stanislaus County Fair is in full swing in Turlock and a small contingent of local 4-H and FFA members are enjoying the experience of showing their animal projects at the annual summer venue.

Ceres and Central Valley high school FFA members have been donning their blue corduroy FFA jackets, holding onto their freshly scrubbed and prepared animal, and drawing on hours of showmanship practice to walk into the show ring with confidence at the Turlock Fair.

During the 10-day affair, which started Friday, Ceres and Hughson students have been exhibiting a wide range of projects including dairy and beef cattle, sheep, meat goats, pigs, rabbits, poultry, ag mechanics, vegetable and plant projects.

Central Valley High School FFA member Stephanie Reyes was happy on Monday after her meat goat won first place in the class. It was the best showing among five CVHS students showing goats, said adviser Ken Moncrief.

The school sent five sheep exhibitors, nine showing swine while two FFA students won the champion (Emmanuel Alvarez) and reserve champion (Alondra Gonzalez) meat pen and chickens. Four others from CVHS have chickens at the fair.

"They'll be selling those two chickens on Saturday to Foster Farms," said Moncrief. "They'll be getting about $500. It's a donation. They're not worth $500 but all these things sell for more than they're worth."

CVHS has about 30 FFA members exhibiting plants and vegetables which were raised in a new greenhouse at the Ceres Unified School District farm near Hidahl Elementary School. Five students are also showing rabbits while one has his steer at the fairgrounds.

"Overall we have about 40 to 50 kids showing at some capacity at the fair this year," said Moncrief, who added that some are ag mechanics exhibitors.

Ceres High FFA has 14 members at the fair with 1,109 entries, according to adviser Mardel Runnels. As of Monday, Alissa Atchison, a CHS senior who is in her third year of fair showing, was declared the reserve champion for the Duroc breed of swine.

"All of the kids are having fun and all of our kids placed in the top half of their class," said Runnels. "We got first and seconds on our plants and veggies. Kendall Neilson got reserve champion for eggs that the hens at school lay, so that was cool."

Runnels said this is her third year with CHS students at the fair and feels it is "by far my best year at the fair.

"They've all come out of the show ring happy with how they've done and that's the best part of it," said Runnels. "They did so good."

Exhibitors like Joe Dodd, 16, of Hughson High FFA, said the fair was an exciting way to spend a week of summer vacation. The Hughson High sophomore placed fourth out of 12 in his class in crossbreed swine weighing 271-278 pounds.

Friday not only marked the exciting opening of this year's Stanislaus County Fair for hundreds of fairgoers, but also the last fair under the direction of Chris Borovansky, who has served as the fair's chief executive officer for the past five years.

After more than 30 years in the fair industry, Borovansky announced in February his intention to retire, saying it was time for him to have a real summer vacation.

However, Borovanksy's approaching retirement was far from the mind of the CEO on Friday, who described himself as being in "fair mode."

"There is so much to do that I cannot dwell on this being my last fair," said Borovansky. "I feel good, but I will definitely soak in this fair more than others."

Despite keeping busy with the fair during its 10-day run, Borovansky revealed that the reality of his departure will hit him on the day after the fair ends, what he refers to as "getaway day."

"Getaway day is always the saddest day of the year for me," said Borovansky.

Borovansky took over as head of the Stanislaus County Fair as the elimination of State funding saw county fairs around the region either close or shortened their runs. He helped to see the fair continue its historic 10-day run, mainly through community partnerships like the Friends of the Fair Foundation.

Borovansky described this year's fair offerings as being more diverse than ever, with quality entertainment for free, motor sports, rodeos, Hispanic programming and livestock exhibits.

"This fair is second to none," said Borovansky. "There is something for everyone here."

Although this is Borovanksy's last experience with the Stanislaus County Fair, it was the first for Felicia Luna, who showed up early before opening day.

"This is a nice break away from the kids and husband," said Luna. "Plus, I am really excited to ride the rides and try the funnel cake."

Luna also expressed enthusiasm to see the headliner for the night, Colt Ford, at the Bud Light Variety Free Stage. Ford is just the beginning of an abundance of entertainers for this year fair, with other big names including Martina McBride, America and Grand Funk Railroad.

Other fairgoers have regarded the annual event as a staple in their lives for years, such as James Furze and husband-wife duo Bruce Sawyer and Jeanette Sawyer.

Furze, who has been going to the Stanislaus County Fair every year for the past 17 years, attended the Friday opening for the opportunity to walk around and see what was in store for this year, as well as check out the various exhibit halls.

Furze also reported that he often attended the fair to meet up with friends and have fun. It is because of this that he anticipated returning to the fair several times this year.

"This fair is always a good way to get together and to have a good time," said Furze.

Noting that they have attended fairs for almost the entirety of their lives, Bruce and Jeanette Sawyer explained that their love for the fair was sparked years ago when they used to show dairy cattle in the FFA and 4-H programs.

"To me, the Stanislaus County Fair is the best fair out of neighboring counties," said Jeanette Sawyer. "It's good, clean entertainment for families."

"It's also a great educational opportunity for kids to see animals they've never seen before," added Bruce Sawyer.

Rock legend Eddie Money performed to a packed crowd on Monday evening while country fans were wooed by Martina McBride on the Budweiser stage on Tuesday.

This evening rock hit makers America perform at 8:30 p.m.

Bret Michaels will appear on Thursday and Jerrod Niemann on Friday. Grand Funk Railroad will sing Saturday.

Two Latin groups, Banda Machos and Los Amigos will perform Sunday to close out the fair.

(Courier staff reporter Alysson Aredas contributed to this report).