We asked a long time friend, Kass Newell to be a Guest Blogger. Our Founder, Steven McEowen has known Kass for many years; he has watched her excel in the Show Ring, find success in college, be an All American Livestock Judging competitor on a National Championship Team and then rise to Executive Vice President of the OYE (Oklahoma Youth Expo).
Steven asked her to write a Blog to share her experience as the OYE progressed, and ultimately was cancelled in March 2020. There is no doubt that this cancellation was tough on all of the competitors. But it was also tough on Kass and the rest of the crew at the OYE. Here are Kass' thoughts:
With another trailer loaded, we headed to the fairgrounds as we do each year. It’s time to set the stage for the World’s Largest Junior Livestock Show. More than 7,000 Oklahoma exhibitors set their goals for this year’s show when they walked out of the ring the previous year. They worked hard all year long, sacrificing time with friends, vacations and activities to devote their time to their livestock.
Never did any of us imagine anything like this would ever happen. The past summer and fall there were concerns of African Swine Fever reaching the United States, which was a concern for us at OYE. In fact, it was such a large concern we took out an insurance policy just in case. At the time, they asked if we wanted to extend the coverage to human viruses…but like we said, we never imagined anything like this would ever happen.
Fast forward to March 10 as trailers began to arrive, tack was moved in and our exhibitors and their families began to fill the barns, just as they do each and every spring break. Then came Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the day the Utah Jazz player tested posted for COVID-19 in Oklahoma City, and the same day the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was also canceled; until then, we never believed OYE had a chance of being cancelled. So many thoughts and emotions ran through our minds that day. What does this mean for us? Where do we go from here? Will higher powers force us to close our doors?
The next morning, the Oklahoma State Basketball tournament, which is held at the Jim Norick Arena at the State Fair Park, was also cancelled. The fear of the unknown began to set in, thankfully, we had the full support of the State Fair Park and state officials, and they encouraged us to proceed as planned. With the cancellation of the basketball games we were able to move into the Jim Norick arena earlier than expected.
Friday, March 13, at 6:00 am the following morning, we held a meeting with all our superintendents to discuss the potential of expediting the show. Even with this idea, the earliest we could have finished would have been Tuesday, March 17 and after careful consideration, due to having the full support of the State Fair Park and with assurance of state officials, we chose to continue as planned.
Every day of the show, we were in close communication with state health officials, the Oklahoma City mayor, the Secretary of Agriculture for Oklahoma and the Governor of Oklahoma. On Saturday, March 14, state officials advised we expedite the show to get out of Oklahoma City as quickly as possible due to the growing concern over community spread of COVID-19.
In less than 2 hours, we sorted through the remainder of the schedule, cancelled and the light show, postponed the Sale of Champions and expedited the remainder of the show, all to provide the opportunity for every market exhibitor to show at the 2020 OYE. Move-in logistics were planned, statements were written, the website and app were updated and we were ready to show. The days would be long, stress levels would rise, but the kids would show and the show would go on.
Sunday morning came and we were more confident than ever about getting to the last day of OYE. Despite running three cattle rings and expediting the schedule, everything was running smoothly and we were back on track. We had a plan, we had a sense of security and the show was rolling, that is until that evening.
As we were preparing for the supreme heifer drive, we received a call from an ag teacher to see if we had seen the news release the mayor of Oklahoma City had just issued. Our hearts sunk. No one truthfully knew what it meant for us, although deep down there was a gut wrenching feeling it was over.
Shortly after the Mayor’s statement, Mr. Jimmy Harrel came to the heifer ring and made the announcement that the 2020 Oklahoma Youth Expo must come to a close.
Walking through the barns that evening as we tried to pick up the pieces, like everyone else, we tried to make sense of everything that had just happened. OYE, 10 days we work toward each year, gone. Dreams and goals our exhibitors set, gone. Memories to be made, gone. It truly felt like someone kicked each and every one of us in the gut.
However, during times of struggle, your family will always be there for you and our stock show family was there for everyone. We were overwhelmingly blessed by their support and their understanding that we fought until the very end for The Greatest Show.
One thing is for certain, we have never been more proud to work in this industry. We learn so many lessons through showing livestock, and these exhibitors will never forget the lessons they learned at the 2020 OYE. As we work toward the next one, remember this, the harder the struggle, the sweeter the victory.
That fateful evening as the chaos ensued a young man was pulling onto the fairgrounds with his parents. Though well-accustomed to the ring, 2020 was the first time he would show under the lights of OYE. That chance never came. Our hearts broke for the exhibitors, just like that little man, who when given the news he could not unload his steer, calmly looked into the tearful eyes of his mother and said, “we’ll be here next year.” We share his disappointment, grieve along with his mother, and yet find hope in the heart of an 8-year old, because we too will be back again next year. We are excited for the future of the Oklahoma Youth Expo and look forward to the memories that will be made in 2021. We will recall the trying times, we will persevere, and we will triumph, because we are Stronger Together.