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Hop into winner’s circle

ROME TOWNSHIP — They got started about a half-hour late, but the delay didn’t damper the enthusiasm of the crowd packed into the arena for Monday morning’s market rabbit show.

In groups of 10 or 12, the 4-Hers marched in carrying their plastic milk cartons with two rabbits each.

Each one, dressed in the requisite white shirt and jeans, lifted their charges onto the folding tables. Then the announcer called out the names of the first round of contestants. Over and over for 13 classes, the 4-Hers were introduced to their audience, always to hoops and cheers. Each time the announcer would end with “Judge, Here is your class.”

On every class judge Kevin Hooper stroked and lifted each of the rabbits checking its weight, muscle tone and development. Every class he complimented, then named the first, second and third place winners as Greasy Ridge team leader Austin White handed out the trophies.

Monday was the third time for Chase Baldwin, 12, of Scottown Farmers and Farmerettes, to compete. Each time he took the first place trophy for his weight class. That means he got to compete for a chance for his rabbit to be named Grand Champion.

Standing at the table as the judge analyzed his animals conjured up a variety of feelings for the young man.

“It is mixed emotions,” he said. “It is exciting and you’re nervous and bunch of other things.”

As the 13th class was judged, the other 12 first place class winners came back to the tables for the final judging. Studiously Hooper stroked and lifted up the animals, comparing them with each other to see which one was the best.

When he nodded to the announcer’s table that he had made his decision, fair board member Larry Kirkpatrick brought out the blue folding chair, the massive grand champion trophy and the banner. Next he carried out the red folding chair, the reserve champion trophy and banner.

Then Hooper announced his decision for Grand Champion — Isabelle Carpenter.

Next he went over the rabbits to determine which one would be Reserve Champion. His choice was Teegan Carpenter. What he didn’t know was the two girls are not only first-time competitors, but first cousins.

“This is exciting,” 11-year-old Isabelle, a member of Country Cousins, said.

Teegan, also a Country Cousins member, seemed equally speechless as she held her trophy that was almost as tall as she is aloft.

“This is good,” she said. Then she pumped her fist in the air like the champion she is.