Colton Hruska in Barnyard Olympics
Colton Hruska flips a tire during the Barnyard Olympics. Hruska is a great grandson of Fran Gerding, who served as a longtime leader and adviser for a local 4-H Club called the Blue Ribbonaires. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

I arrived on a hot, dusty, Friday afternoon at the Benton County Fairgrounds to check in on the kids from Philomath who were participating in the annual 4-H show. While the Benton County Fair was canceled this year due to the pandemic, 4-H kids were still allowed to bring their annual projects to the fairgrounds to be judged.

The fairgrounds were only open to 4-H families and the shows themselves were not open to the public. The 4-H leaders allowed me to peek inside to see what was going on so I could share back with all of you for this month’s Love of Learning column.

One of the things that struck me right off the bat was talking to the security guard at the front gate. When I asked him how things were going, he smiled and said “things are going great! These are some of the most respectful and well-mannered kids I have ever been around.” That seemed like a good indicator for what I might discover inside.

I entered the fairgrounds and heard all kinds of moos, oinks, clucks and other animal chatter. I immediately noticed some beautiful brown and white Boer goats named “Boo” and “Sugar” that Cameron Kvidt of Kings Valley brought to show. The two of them looked straight at me and said “Baaaaaaa.”  

Jake McGaughy shows off his two Suffolk cross sheep (Norman, left, and Sweet Pea) that he raised through the 4-H program this past year. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Not long after that I bumped into Jake McGaughy and his mom, Trina. I admired the beautiful sheep Jake had brought to the fair. Jake will be an eighth grader at Philomath Middle School next month. Jake beamed with pride while he shared details about how he raised his Suffolk-cross sheep that he named “Norman” and “Sweet Pea.” He wound up winning a third-place showman ribbon in the Intermediates category. Way to go Jake!

I asked Trina how 4-H has helped Jake? She smiled broadly and said “he’s an outdoor kid. The ‘teamsmanship’ and being outdoors is perfect for him. He has learned great leadership skills through 4-H.”

Jake’s story reflects the experiences that lots of kids and families from Philomath and our surrounding rural communities experience through their involvement in Benton County’s 4-H program. 4-H is a nationwide positive youth development and mentoring program that first started up in Oregon over a century ago.

Cameron McLennan raced to the front of the line to get his snow cone at Friday’s Barnyard Olympics. He wore a tie-dyed shirt that matched the colors of his snow cone. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

This was the very first year that Benton County 4-H had hosted the Barnyard Olympics and the kids were excited. Approximately 150 kids were curious and eager with excitement to take a break from the pandemic, feeding and watering animals, or picking pens and having some good old-fashioned barnyard fun.

The Olympics consisted of five events. There was a tire flip race, a blindfold obstacle course race, a human wheelbarrow race, the water balloon toss, and the grand finale, the water chug-a-lug contest.

The 4-H kids were broken down into teams of six and asked to come up with a name. The kids came up with some creative names like the “Les Schwabbies,” “the Old McDonalds,” and my favorite, the “Mediocre Meatheads.”

Let the games begin! It was fun to watch the kids awkwardly try and flip tires through the fairgrounds field and roll them back and forth. It was apparent this was an event many of the kids may not have done before but in the spirit of 4-H they just jumped up, tried it, and just figured it out.   

Teammates and parents alike were cheering on their teams. 4-H advisors were figuring out the rules on the fly as they blared various event instructions through a megaphone. Everyone had a blast. It was refreshing to see kids simply having fun together. The kids were laughing at their friends and competing as best as they could after a long week preparing for the 4-H show.  

Carly Dowless, a 2021 graduate from Philomath High School, guides her blindfolded younger brother, Tanner, through the Barnyard Olympics obstacle course. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

In the blindfolded obstacle course, Carly Dowless, who just graduated Philomath High School, carefully directed her younger brother, Tanner, through a set of plastic cones and a hula hoop obstacle. I must admit I was impressed with Carly’s maturity and restraint. She held back from steering her blindfolded kid brother into walking through a pile of cow chips at the fairgrounds. Tanner obviously trusts his sister.

For those that may not know, Carly started a wonderful 4-H project several years ago that organized a group of 4-H youth to clean up leaves and weeds from around the headstones that rest in our historic Mount Union Cemetery. They did this project in early May in preparation for Philomath’s annual Memorial Day Flag Placement Ceremony. During this year’s 4-H show, she was awarded second overall sheep exhibitor and third overall beef exhibitor. We are grateful for Carly’s years of community service in 4-H and wish her the best of luck as she studies business agriculture at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario this fall. Her choice of study is no doubt a result of her positive experiences in the 4-H Club.

The Barnyard Olympics concluded with both the water balloon toss and the water chug-a-lug contests — it was easily apparent to me that every kid in the 4-H program is a winner. They try new things. They do stuff. They get their hands dirty. They learn responsibility and leadership and have tons of fun doing all of it.

Every kid that participated in the Barnyard Olympics received a free snow cone for their efforts.  I can’t think of a better end to a hot Friday afternoon at the Benton County Fairgrounds. Hope to see you next year at the 2022 version of the Barnyard Olympics

On another note, I ‘d like to add that I was very impressed with our local 4-H program last year during the wildfire season. Juli McLennan, a 4-H adult leader from Philomath, stepped up and led an amazing effort of 4-H volunteers to take care of animals that were evacuated from communities across the mid-valley at the Benton County Fairgrounds. Juli initially reached out to four clubs to come clean pens, provide fresh water and walk the horses. Within two hours, the group had grown to 56 4-H members representing 10 clubs taking care of 181 animals.

Jennifer Sirangelo (Photo by National 4-H Council)

I reached out to Jennifer Sirangelo, who serves as the president and CEO of the National 4-H Council based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to get her perspective for this column. She replied back saying ”In 4-H, we encourage ALL young people no matter their circumstances to find their spark, explore their passions and become leaders in their communities. Diverse backgrounds and beliefs help generate the most innovative solutions in a changing world.

“Benton County 4-H’ers are a stellar example of youth applying their problem-solving and leadership skills to help their communities,” she continued. “During the Oregon wildfires last year, they lived 4-H’s motto of ‘Head, Heart, Hands, and Health’ when they quickly mobilized to care for evacuated animals around the clock. Thank you, Oregon 4-H, for inspiring us and making the world a better place. Keep up the great work!” 

If you or a family you know are interested in getting involved in 4-H this coming year, please reach out to Carolyn Ashton or Kelly Cotter at the OSU 4H extension office at 541-713-5000.

Below is a list of the 4-H kids from Philomath and how their projects fared at the fair.

Champion, Beef Senior Showmanship — Sophia Bauer
Reserve Champion, Sheep Senior Showmanship — Carly Dowless
Reserve Champion, Sheep Junior Showmanship — Archer Schroder
Champion, Swine Senior Showmanship — Ty May
Reserve Champion, Swine Junior Showmanship — Falon Cleveland
Champion, Meat Goat Senior Showmanship — Addison Cleveland
Reserve Champion, Meat Goat Intermediate Showmanship — Caleb Babcock
Reserve Champion, Meat Goat Junior Showmanship — Daven Cleveland
Champion, Dairy Goat Senior Showmanship — Addison Cleveland
Champion, Dairy Goat Intermediate Showmanship — Briahna Ledbetter
Champion, Dairy Goat Junior Showmanship — Maggie Koning
Reserve Champion, Dairy Goat Junior Showmanship — Falon Cleveland
Reserve Champion, Pygmy Goat Intermediate Showmanship — Brooke McKinley
Champion, Pygmy Goat Junior Showmanship — Hailey McKinley
Reserve Champion, Pygmy Goat Junior Showmanship — Bryce Hruska
Champion, Cavy Intermediate Showmanship — Jenica Baker
Reserve Champion, Poultry Intermediate Showmanship — Jenica Baker
Champion, Swine Market Middle Weight — Jessica McLennan
Champion, Swine Market Light Weight — Alyssa Kvidt
Reserve Champion, Beef Market — Sophia Bauer
Reserve Champion, Hog Market Light Weight — Lane Schell
Reserve Champion, Hog Market Heavy Weight — Lily Schell
Reserve Champion, Hog Market Overall — Lily Schell

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at