Judging is subjective by its very nature. Those judges keeping a watchful eye over participants at this weekend’s Franklin County Fair understand the difficulty of selecting the top entries.

“You have to go with your own opinion, pick the one that does the most good,” Spencer Scotten, who judged the meat goat and sheep Thursday at the fair. “Sometimes at the top end, it gets pretty tough. Some of those classes they are three or four deep and are all really good.”

Scotten is an experienced 4-H judge. He spent his childhood in 4-H and joined the Butler County Community College and Kansas State University judging teams.

“It is fun to go around and work with young people in ag,” he said. “You can tell they put a lot of work in through the summer. It is always fun to see livestock.”

For a first timer, judging 4-H projects can be agonizing. Chris Croucher, who was the woodworking and electrical judge at the fair, had a difficult time deciding the winners.

“It gets down to picking little things apart,” Croucher, Osage City, said. “I don’t like doing that to kids because it discourages them a little bit. It basically comes down to what hit me. The wow factor. Everybody has a different eye and way of looking at things.”

Rae Ann Johnson, an arts and crafts judge for 17 years, likes the interaction with the 4-H kids.

“I enjoy the 4-H aspect of it,” she said. “When you do open class, all you do is look at the product itself. You are judging it strictly on that. You have a 4-H [kid] sitting in front of you and explaining the process. They are explaining where they got their ideas and everything comes into play. You could take a simple project and have the kid explain what they did. All of a sudden it goes from an interesting nice project to ‘wow you did what?’ It becomes an awesome process.”

Johnson, a Garnett elementary teacher, spends her summers teaching art and judging at county fairs.

“I love it,” she said. “Depends on what fair you end up at. Sometimes you get the little-bitty guys and sometimes I get the high schoolers.”

One part Johnson likes is getting to see the 4-H’ers grow each year.

“I have one little girl that I have been judging before she was old enough officially to be in 4-H,” Johnson said. “She is in high school now. To watch the process of her as an artist from where she began as a little thing to where she is now is astonishing. I love watching that growth in them.”

EXHIBIT COMPLEXITIES

Each judge said there were certain things they look for in projects or animals. Johnson and Croucher said creativity is a big criteria for them.

“Coming up with something different and new,” Croucher said. “You can tell how much work the kids put into it. It is just like the animals, you want the kid to put the effort into that. They are the ones being judged.”

Johnson said she learns a lot in her interaction with the entrants.

“It is interesting to see which ones took an idea that they saw and then tell you, ‘I did not like the way they did such and such, so I did this instead,’” Johnson said. “Using their creativity and building off what they have in them to create a piece of art work. I like them explaining it. It is interesting because you have the shy kids that are afraid to talk to you and you have those that rattle. It is good for them to develop those skills so they can use those in life itself.”

Scotten said judging animals is two-fold: the actual animal and how the 4-H’er exhibits the animal.

“In any animal, I am looking for an animal that is complete: balance, good-looking from the side and has some muscle,” he said. “What we are doing this for is raising market animals. Whenever we put them in the show ring, they need to have some look to them.”

He explained showmanship is an important aspect because a top-notch animal may be overlooked because of the way it was shown in the ring.

“A showman that does a good job, they generally get animals to place higher because they can keep them looking good,” Scotten said. “If you have a good animal and the judge has a hard time getting a look at them, you can get them beat if they are covered up. It will make the animal not look as good as they are.”

Croucher said woodworking was harder to judge than the electrical exhibits.

“The electrical, you can get more critical because you can look for crimps that are not together or splices that are not right,” Croucher said. “In woodworking, there is a bit more detail in a lot of these. How the grains matched ... difficulty of the project. You can see a lot more detail in the work than others.”

JUDGING A JUDGE

Croucher recommends each 4-H parent be a judge.

“If a parent is a judge at least once, they will respect what the judge has to say,” he said. “I realized this is a lot harder than it looks. It was fun, but yet stressful.”

Johnson sees judging as an opportunity to make an impact on young people.

“I love seeing them grow as individuals,” she said. “It is amazing to watch.”

For Scotten, animal judging is his way of giving back to the 4-H programs.

“When I was younger, the judges came in and I looked up to them,” he said. “It was a cool thing to do. I feel like I can give back to the program that helped me out a lot. I will go around do as many [fairs] as I can, especially in the summer. This summer, I have got to go to a few different states.”