Around 100 business leaders attended the Junior Market Livestock Show Buyers Appreciation Luncheon held Wednesday at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center. Sulphur Springs High School FFA member Brandon Fain, a junior, serves steak lunches to Master of Ceremonies Frank Long (2nd from left), NETLA sales committee chair, and NETLA President Eddie Lampp (3rd from left).
Staff photo by Angela Pitts

Ready For The Show

Annual show offers a glimpse into the future of Hopkins County's ag industry

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Feb. 20, 2008 - Aaron Smith is unique. In many ways, the Miller Grove fifth grader is a typical Hopkins County youngster -- he likes to play basketball and baseball, and he competed in University Intershcolastic League academic competition last year at school, where he's also taken part in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

But there's one thing that sets him apart. He's showing a project at the Hopkins County Junior Market Show , which starts tomorrow and continues through Saturday at the Hopkins County Civic Center, and that puts him into a rather elite and important category.

Only about 250 youths in the entire county have the discipline and tenacity to make it to the junior stock show, sponsored every February by the Northeast Texas Livestock Association, although that number has grown significantly in recent times.

The number of lives the annual junior market show runs into the thousands, from all the youths who show their projects to the parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives who help them, to ag teachers, FFA and 4-H sponsors, and the hundreds who put their money where their hearts are at the Sale of Champions that closes out the project show.

The stock show begins Thursday at the Civic Center. Show times are:

  • Lambs -- Thursday, Feb. 21, at 6 p.m.
  • Goats -- Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.
  • Swine -- Friday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m.
  • Poultry - Saturday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 a.m.
  • Steers -- Saturday, Feb. 23, at 10 a.m.
  • Sale of Champions begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, preceded by a chili supper for the buyers at 5 p.m.

The Junior Market Show is a significant event in Hopkins County, which has seen the number of farms and ranches operating within its borders fall over the last two decades, but still remains one of the biggest producers in Texas.

"The agriculture industry is still a major part of the economy in Hopkins County," said Brad Johnson, manager of Northeast Texas Co-op and one of the many organizers of the NETLA show. "Yes, we've seen a dwindling number of farms and dairies in our county, but we've actually seen a growth in the number of kids and families involved in FFA and 4-H. The youth participation has really grown over the last three years and the participation is from all areas of our county."

As of one week ago, Hopkins County youths had had validated 346 projects for the show -- 106 swine, 25 steers, 109 goats, 66 pens of chickens and 40 sheep.

Far more people, however, are impacted by the junior market show.

"This affects over a thousand folks in the county," Johnson noted. "If you just take 266 kids times their parents and grandparents, it's real easy to see that. But if you also look at the Sale of Champions we've had the last several years, it exceeds United Way, it exceeds Relay For Life. We're talking about a lot of participation in the county that's almost unmatched."

The Sale of Champions has, indeed, become a staggering event in terms of participation and money raised. Consider that just 10 years ago there were 60 projects that made it to the sale, generating $60, 792.

Last year, there were 131 sale projects fetching $191,155 from local businesses and individuals.

It's not uncommon for that money to fuel a college career, according to Hopkins County Agriculture Extension Agent Larry Spradlin, one of the organizers of the yearly show.

"I know some use the money to buy another project, and some will use it to get into the industry, but we send a lot of them to school," said Spradlin.

But taking part in the show teaches much more to the 266 participants.

"They're exposed to the daily function of chores," Johnson explained. "For a four-month time frame, give or take, that's a daily responsible. That is a lesson that will stay with them throughout their lives.

"And for the majority of these projects, it creates a time where parents and kids or kids and grandparents can be involved in something common," he added. "It creates a bond between kids and parents, kids and grandparents, with ag teachers, brothers and sisters."

Their efforts also result in judged competition, which is a lesson in itself.

"That spirit of competition, and that feeling of winning and losing, are real lessons in life," Johnson said. "It's outstanding to be the grand champion, but it can be just as rewarding for someone to make the 30th slot. There will be 130 kids out there that will taste defeat, but they will learn from that."

The show also helps fund scholarships given out by the livestock association. This year, the NETLA scholarship committee has agreed to open up the scholarships to youths who major in any field, rather than just agriculture.

"There are so many degrees that will ultimately apply to the agricultural field," Johnson said. "You can major in biology and still enter agricultural marketing, or just about any area. You can major in genetics, and that doesn't necessarily mean human genetics. Growing up in 4-H and FFA gives you so much experience."

Anyone who wants to take part in the Sale of Champions can simply show up at the event Saturday, which begins with a chili supper at 5 p.m. at the Civic Center, and participate in the bidding, which begins in earnest at 6 p.m.

Those who can't make the Sale of Champions can still participate in one of the buyers' groups, which were started in the early 1990s by Jackie Gibson when there wasn't as much interest in the sale of projects. Gibson solicited contributions and donations, which he pooled together to bid on projects at the Sale of Champions.

Jackie Gibson has since passed away, but contributions are still pooled together in the "Wild Bunch" buyers group, coordinated by his son, Kevin Gibson, and Robert Vanwinkle.

Anyone who wants to make a donation to the buyers group can simply drop a check off for Vanwinkle at Hopkins County Abstract, 441 Oak Ave., or contact Vanwinkle at 903-885-2145 to arrange to make a contribution.

There's one other new wrinkle for this year's show. Bill Bradford plans to tape the Sale of Champions and air it Monday on KSST TV Channel 18.

"There will be about 130 kids that will go through that ring that will get to see themselves on TV," said Johnson. "That's pretty cool."

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