Calvin Affleck described himself as just a boy from the suburbs of Durham.
So what was Affleck and his buddy, Nestor Juarez, doing leading around little white lambs in a barn high on a hill overlooking farms, silos and fields in Orange County?
They, along with about 100 kids ages 5 to 18 from Orange, Durham, Person, Chatham, Wake, Guilford, Alamance and Randolph counties, were competing in the 69th Annual Central Piedmont Junior Livestock Show & Sale.
Some of the kids at the show grew up on farms and have been showing since they were barely old enough to tell a pig from a lamb. Others, like Affleck and Juarez were first-timers.
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Affleck wants to become an engineer for NASA, and Juarez wants to go into dentistry, but on Wednesday they were competing as members of Future Farmers of America.
They both joined FFA after they enrolled in agriscience and biotechnology classes at Jordan High School. They heard about the special project to raise and show lambs, and they thought it sounded fun, plus it might look good on their college applications.
At Jordan, every day after school, their teacher, Lindsay Dagerhardt, would take about nine students out to a farm, where they would feed, groom and water the lambs and practice lamb showmanship.
When the time came for the show Wednesday, they and their teammates donned their white shirts and blue FFA corduroy jackets and led their lambs into the ring. They had no halters or ropes to control them. Instead they placed one hand on top of the neck and one under its chin and pushed, pulled and prodded the lambs around the ring.
In showmanship, the judge watches to make sure contestants brace their lambs correctly by placing their legs in a certain position and if they’re keeping their eyes on the judge.
At first Affleck’s little white lamb didn’t want to come in the ring, then once it was in, it made a break for it as Affleck scrambled after it to grab hold again.
The judge stalked the ring, watching each contestant carefully to make sure the lambs were being held in the correct position.
In the end, Affleck won a fourth-place ribbon and Juarez won a participation ribbon in their group.
It was a lot harder than they thought it would be.
“I was really nervous,” Affleck said. “I didn’t think I was going to be, but I was really nervous.”
Their backs and legs began to ache as they tried to maintain the correct position, which was half bent over with their knees bent to help hold the lambs in place.
“It was exhausting,” Juarez said. “My back just started hurting a lot.”
Do they want to do it again?
Oh, yeah. Definitely next year, they’ll be back, they said.
“I was one place from being called back,” Affleck said.
“I was four places from being called back,” Juarez joked.
Several of their teammates from Jordan were called back in the ring to compete at the next level for their age group and for the showmanship championship.
Ashley Jenkins, 18, a senior who has been showing for four years, won the blue ribbon in her age group and was named the Reserve Champion overall for lamb showmanship.
She had won a blue ribbon before, but she had never won a Reserve Championship, so she and her mother, who showed lambs when she was in high school, were smiling broadly after the show. Mom took photos and zipped them off to her father via cell phone.
Orange High School in Hillsborough had a strong showing in the hog show. Manley Palmer, who took up showing again about two years ago, won the Grand Championship in swine showmanship and pen of three, where each contestant brings three matching market swine into the ring, and the judge selects the best group.
“I was probably three years old when I was helping my cousin show his lamb, pushing it and helping out,” Palmer said.
“I just enjoy being around agriculture, being able to show pigs and teaching the little kids and educating the public about it,” he said.