By Jared Ritz
Seven individuals stand in a line in the center of a dirt arena. Six of them, girls, are visibly anxious and excited; one of them, a boy, is calm and pretty much relaxed.
As the runners-up are announced, those girls' whose names were not called emit sighs of relief that can be heard all the way to the bleachers. The boy still stands, cool as a cucumber.
So was the scene about 10 seconds before the winners of this years' Hill County 4-H Queen and Teen Representative competition was announced Thursday morning.
Mandy Rambo won the Queen position, and Matthew Barkley is this year's Teen Representative.
The competition, which is in it's 44th year, is held every summer in the Bigger Better Barn during the Great Northern Fair. All members of 4-H who are older than 14 and have not yet graduated from high school are allowed to enter.
Paula Vaughn, the chairman of the Teen Queen committee, said the competition is a great final touch for most 4-H participants.
"I think it's an important achievement for senior team members. It's a finishing touch on their 4-H careers," she said. The winners are decided by a panel of judges involving one adult-aged leader from each of the 11 4-H clubs in Hill County, Vaughn said. She said the usual number of applicants for queen is three to six; the guys never get more than two.
Matthew Barkley, the male described above, had good reason to be at ease he was the only person vying for the Teen Representative position at this year's annual event.
He said the one aspect of the competition he didn't like was the amount of time it took to be finalized.
"The worst part is waiting a day-and-a-half, from when they interview you until they announce it," said Barkley, a 17-year-old senior from Kremlin.
Barkley said the duties of the Teen Representative involved 4-H meetings, leadership camps, and other activities.
"You're pretty much chosen to represent the members of 4-H for Hill County," he said.
Even though Barkley was the only male competing, he said it would have been possible for him to not be appointed if the judges felt that the competitor was not up to snuff.
Mandy Rambo, a 16-year-old competitor from Gildford, said that Barkley didn't have to worry about that.
"He's the one that does everything," she said.
She would know.
Rambo is the secretary for the Kremlin Hogs 4-H club, the 22 member organization that serves the Kremlin area; Barkley is President. Each has a long history with the club. Barkley has nine years under his belt; Rambo has eight.
Before the competition, Rambo talked about what it means to be a 4-H Queen, and why she is competing.
"I wanna represent Hill County 4-H," she said. "I think it's a really big honor."
A few long minutes later, that honor was bestowed upon her.
After hugging those who competed with her, she posed for pictures to commemorate her achievement. She said she shared Barkley's dislike for the waiting part of the competition, and was glad to see it be done.
"I'm relieved. We finally know," she said.
The two winners will now attend all sorts of functions put on by and affiliated with local 4-H programs.
Laine Lybeck, last year's queen, who presented Rambo with her honorary sash and crown, said she loved the time she spent with the program.
"I got to work with little kids, it was wonderful," she said during her speech before giving Rambo the goods. "It went by to quick."
Next year, Rambo will most likely have similar memories. And maybe, just maybe, more than one boy will compete.