Judge not qualified to say who goes on to state, Erie County 4-H'ers say
Some 4-H equestrian club members are saying "whoa" to judging decisions they say are unfair.
Each year, prior to the Erie County Fair, a horse show determines which 4-H members with equestrian projects are eligible to compete at the state level.
This year, members such as Jocelyn Ohlemacher, 16, and Aubree Curliss, 13, said it wasn't competition as usual.
The girls, alongside a half-dozen other equestrian club members, stood holding signs on Columbus Avenue sidewalks near the Erie County Service Center in protest of one competitor being allowed to compete at the state level despite not attaining the required score.
A flier passed out by Curliss' mom, Tina, claims the judge wasn't certified to be scoring the competition and the local extension office and state 4-H leadership are handling the matter inappropriately.
Susan Steele, spokeswoman for 4-H in Ohio, said there are no requirements for judges to be certified, only voluntary certification courses. Judges are selected by the local extension office from a list provided by the state, she said.
Steele said local extension office Director Angie Holmes will work with parents and volunteers to ensure the contest runs smoothly next year.
"These 4-H members have obviously worked really hard and are disappointed and we feel bad about that," Steele said.
But, she added, this won't change who is and isn't competing because the state's guiding principle is to uphold judges' decisions as final.
"We stand behind the judge's decision. It's one of our guiding principles we support the judges. Their decisions are final and they need that support. That's really what is driving the decision."
Steele said 4-H in Ohio must also consider the 11,000 members statewide who participate in equestrian projects annually.
"It's not fair," Ohlemacher said. "We were told this is a life lesson. What lesson are we supposed to learn?"
"How is teaching kids 'cheating gets you ahead' a life lesson?" Aubree Curliss asked. "We're out here so other kids don't see this happen to them."
Steele agrees this is a life lesson, but added that 4-H isn't so much about competition as it is a learning experience.
"We're a youth development program so it's about the horse event, but it's really about learning leadership life skills and citizenship," she said. "Part of that can be learning to deal with difficult news. We hope kids will remember to come back next year and keep doing the best they can."
Tina Curliss wanted it to be clear the 4-H'ers aren't upset with the Fair Board, which is why they protested at the service center and not at the fairgrounds.