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JUNIOR FAIR BOARD : The Lighter Side : Hog calling, pie eating and cow-chip tossing are a few of the contest responsibilities of the 20-member board.


When the Ventura County Fair opens later this month, 16-year-old Dan Geis will be in hog heaven.

As a member of the Junior Fair Board, he's in charge of the fair's hog-calling contest. Fortunately, he is a kid who knows a thing or two about porkers. He has raised seven hogs over the years and brought them to fairs.

Dan, who lives in Santa Paula, is one of 20 young members on the Junior Fair Board. Although they meet each month all year, their main responsibility is to coordinate 16 contests that go on during the fair, which runs Aug. 19-30.

These are not serious, nail-biting, competitive events. The contests include pie-eating, a "trike" pull, diaper derby, cow-chip toss, egg toss, senior queen, look-alike, mustache and lip-syncing.

The kids must prepare for the contests, buying supplies and making posters. They coordinate entries and generally make sure the event runs smoothly.

For Dan, that means keeping track of about 30 200-pound pigs and their owners.

"It's one of the biggest events," he said. During the contest, the pig's owner has a minute to call the pig across the arena and somehow get the animal to put his feet inside a 2-by-2-foot square.

The packed arena is quiet while the owner calls the pig by name or whistles to the animal.

"The record is about three or four seconds," he said. Food isn't allowed in the arena, but Dan recommends training the pig to come when called by using cat food as a reward.

"They're extremely smart," he said.

It's Dan's second year on the board. He follows in the footsteps of two older sisters and a brother who also served on the board. He signed on, he said, to develop leadership skills and learn how to delegate work.

"You have to be a people person too," he said.

It's a time-consuming job that pays nothing. But last year, 40 young people applied for the 20 positions on the board. Kids interested in becoming a member can pick up an application at the fairgrounds office. Applicants must be 15 to 20 years old and live in the county. A panel of Junior Fair Board advisers and other fair officials interview applicants during the fall and make selections.

The youth board was established during the early 1970s, according to Teri Raley, a longtime board adviser. The idea was to give youngsters a taste of business and agricultural operations. Although many members have had experience as 4-H members, that is not a requirement.

"The kids are all completely different," she said, coming from all socioeconomic levels across the county.

Kellie Wetzell, 18, heads the board this year, her third as a member. A graduate of Thousand Oaks High School, she is attending Moorpark Community College.

The fair is a hectic time for junior board members, Wetzell said. Most are at the fair every day, helping with events. (They're visible in their red T-shirts.) They have to be on their toes for the unexpected.

"Some people try to use hard-boiled eggs in the egg toss," Wetzell said. "But we usually catch them."

They also must learn patience and diplomacy. Some parents, she said, are overzealous during the diaper derby--a race for babies under 18 months--and during the trike pull, a contest for 4- to 7-year-olds.

And, of course, they also must learn to get used to the unexpected.

Two years ago, Kellie was working on the senior queen contest for elderly women. One spritely contestant didn't hesitate when asked her favorite hobby: sex. The woman then played the tease and pulled her strap down over her shoulder.

"It was hysterical," Kellie said.

This year, a new responsibility has been added to the list for the young board members. Each is assigned to work as an intern in some area of the fair. Kellie's job will be to help out in the photo exhibit area.

The members learn a lot about how to run the fair. They work on a budget, receiving $1,000 a year from the Fair Board and additional money from their contest entry fees.

From that they buy supplies, though they attempt to get many necessities--such as pies and eggs--donated. They scout out the best place to get cow chips and sometimes, throughout the year, they travel to other fairs to learn about other contests.

Kellie is a member because she simply loves the fair each year. Her older sister raised pigs for 4-H, and she spent six years raising sheep.

"I've been at the fair since I was born," she said.

* FYI: For information about the Junior Fair Board, call the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 648-3376.

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