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Agenda changes, but the focus remains the same

The family cat sat on the window seal completely mesmerized. She just watched one squirrel after another run, climb, scamper, frolic – lots of frolicking – from tree to ground back to tree.
Then I walked the family dog. He too was enamored with the fluffy-tailed creatures – so much, mind you, he seemed to forget why he needed to go outside so badly.
This day was Sunday, April 10, mere hours after The Headliners’ trumpet player had packed up his musical gear for a ride out of Sylvania with his band mates. And only days after pigs, lambs, goats and cows took top billing in the county.
The 2011 version of the Screven County Livestock Festival was done except for a teensy, weensy wrap-up edition of this publication, the Sylvania Telephone. Please take notice of the extreme sarcasm in the “teensy” and “weensy” references.
I hope you enjoyed the Telephone’s tribute to the festival April 14. We were proud to bring it to you.
After a week away from the festival and all its extras for its 60th anniversary, I, like the rest of you, have gotten back into the daily life routine, but it also has given me an opportunity to reflect back on the true essence of the festival.
Yes, there was a BBQ Grill-off, a Bake-off, singers, vendors and the free concert by The Headliners, but with all the additional flair this year the festival, as it has been for the 59 years before too, was about the youth of our community.
When you celebrate a diamond anniversary, it is important to acknowledge the history of the festival. Since the beginning, the way that has been done is promote the accomplishments of the school-aged exhibitors. Without the youth to build upon, our festival would have met its death dozens of years ago.
Each year I travel the county to photograph and talk with exhibitors just before the festival kicks off with the annual pageant. And each year I hear those exhibitors use words like “responsibility,” “commitment” and “dedication” -- three central elements necessary in raising livestock animals, but also vital in practically any worthwhile endeavor.
Alyson Pope showed pigs, goats and cows during the shows April 5-7 at the county’s agricultural center. Over the years, she, her twin sister Emily, and older sibling Hillary have shown quite a bit of livestock on local and state levels.
So what would Alyson do if she wasn’t showing livestock? “I would probably play a lot more sports,” she said. Hillary’s response after thinking for a second or two – “I don’t know what I would do. I want to show everything for the experience of it.”
The girls, the daughters of Howard and Caroline Pope, already have plans to show again next year. They will have different animals with different names. The names “Daisy,” “Scarlett,” “Winnie,” “Topinga,” “Bambi,” “Missy,” “Roscoe,” and “Ralph” already were used this year.
James Thompson, who has years of involvement with the festival, allowed the Popes to show his heifers.
Andrea Simmons considers her goats her best friends. The animals are part of the extended family.—which, at her house, includes but is not limited to dogs, cats, ducks, chickens and the pigs Andrea also showed during the festival.
The 14-year-old ninth grader assists with their farm’s goat birthing process, but does draw the line at a point.
“I don’t stick my hand up there. I let Mom do that,” said Andrea, who, with her mother Judy, set up a petting zoo for children after the April 9 livestock parade in downtown Sylvania.
The Simmons allowed children in the county to borrow some of their goats for the shows to help reduce others’ expenses. After the shows, the youth brought the goats back.
“We try to help the kids in the county,” said Judy Simmons. “We are the type of people who are going to help a kid.”
The Simmons, along with Judy’s husband Roland, also will host a “Got Goat Goat Show” at the ag center April 30, starting at 8 a.m. The day will include a dress your goat show, photographs, and scrapbooking. It is free.
As should be expected, showing animals definitely is not simple, but Zachary Weaver says it gets easier with experience. He showed animals with his twin brother Daniel and other sister Sydnee.
Zachary now has shown lambs eight years, cows four, and pigs two. Sydnee, a senior, has shown lambs for 12 years and pigs for two.
During the exhibitors/contributors breakfast April 5, Sydnee played a videotaped speech for the crowd at the county extension office because in her words she didn’t want to cry during her talk.
As the video played with her reminiscing about her first lamb “Lucky” and giving heart-felt thanks to teachers, advisors, parents Wayne and Melissa Weaver, and her family, Sydnee slipped around the corner.
To the contributors, Sydnee said, “You are not told enough that you are helping raise children whether you know it or not.”
When Sydnee returned to the front of the room to turn off the video, there were tears on her cheeks.
Preparations for the 61st festival will begin soon, if they haven’t already. The schedule has not been decided, but the focus has – it’s our youth.

Enoch Autry is the publisher-editor of the Sylvania Telephone.