Who’s the judge?: Process involved in judging 4-H projects

COLUMBIA CITY — Local 4-Hers are putting the finishing touches on their projects this week, making them “just right” before they are turned in for judging on Tuesday and Wednesday.

After they drop off their projects and speak to the judges, the doors to the 4-H Center are locked and results aren’t known until the first day of the fair on Friday.

What happens behind those locked doors? A lot of work and a lot of tough decisions are made.

Judges are often comparing great projects with other great projects, and the decision usually isn’t easy.

Whitley County Extension Program Assistant Cindy Brown begins the process of selecting judges in January, and typically by March, most of the judges are in place.

Judges are usually selected from a pool of options throughout northeast Indiana. Most have experience in the field they are judging, and they cannot have any ties to the county they judge in.

Brown herself is a judge, and recently judged in Kosciusko County. She’ll also judge in Wells, LaGrange and Adams counties this year.

“We all know each other,” Brown said.

There was a clinic a couple years ago that invited potential judges to come together and learn the 4-H way.

“They concentrated on procedures, expectations, and some mini workshops on specific things,” Brown said.

The amount of expertise needed is dependent on the project. Some judges are leaders in other counties and former 4-H members.

In the past, some local experts have been called upon, such as Master Gardeners and members of the REMC for the electric projects.

Just as important as knowing the subject they’re judging, Brown says it’s important for judges to know the “4-H way.”

“We need people who understand 4-H and the positive impact they can make on the 4-Hers,” Brown said. “They have to know what we’re trying to achieve here.”

As a judge herself, Brown said sometimes the decisions are tough to make.

“Sometimes, there aren’t any ‘duds,’” she said. “They’re all so good that it makes it hard. Unfortunately, it comes down to personal preference.”

Brown says members shouldn’t get down on themselves if they aren’t the champion.

Different days and different judges sometimes have different results.

“The bottom line is, are you proud of what you did? That’s what it’s about. Did you learn something?” she asks. “That’s why we want positive judges.”

Brown coordinates the judges for projects on the hill, excluding projects that have their own leaders, such as rocketry, as well as the large and small animal round robin judges.

Judges are paid for through 4-H Inc., which determines the amount they are paid per project. Some judge several projects, while others focus on one. The total number of judges varies based on 4-H enrollment and the number of projects taken.

In the animal shows, judges are selected by the leaders of each species.

The Whitley County 4-H Fair is July 13-19.

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