COLUMBIA — Next to the 4-H exhibit and the ham display is a royal blue curtained stage lined with folding chairs. Parents with numbered paper plates around their necks sat bouncing little boys clutching pinwheels as music reminiscent of a merry-go-round played.
But the real spectacle was in the audience. The family members offstage use different tactics to try to get the little boys on their cutest behavior — some make faces, others wave. One man wearing a red shirt with “Dad” printed on the back clapped his hands as he swayed back and forth.
Nani Fudge, the master of ceremonies, said the contest brings extended families together for an afternoon of fun. She stood in for the chairwoman, Terri Fudge-McGrath, who had been preparing for the contest since about March.
“For the kids, it’s almost like a mini-family reunion in here,” Fudge said. “It’s crazy. Everybody’s happy.”
Kathy Edwards, grandmother of Gabriel Hind, first place winner in the 2-year-old division, said the contest is about pride. Gabriel also won first place in his division and grand champion of the baby show at The Soybean Festival in Mexico, Mo.
But Gabriel’s mother, Tracy Hind, tells a different story.
“We just go and enjoy doing things together,” she said. “He’s got a nice personality, and it’s nice for him to be able to share it.”
Contest judge Tammi Bunch said the contest is judged about 50-50 between personality and appearance.
“They can be as cute as a button, but if they’re ornery…” she said and shook her head.
The contest rules state that the children must be dressed in play clothing — no hats, sunglasses or props of any kind.
The children wore a variety of different styles, but bright polo shirts and plaid shorts were popular among the winners. Styled hair, especially faux hawks, also made several appearances.
Each child in the contest received a participation bag filled with goodies, including animal print sunglasses, zoo animal finger puppets and, for younger participants, beanbag animals.
The top six boys in each category received a ribbon and were awarded cash prizes as well. The show is sponsored by five local small businesses, which gave a $50 donation each and received advertising in the Baby Contests and the Little Mr. and Miss Boone County contests.
Fudge said the coordinators try to cover the cost of the contest with money from sponsors so the fair can keep the $6 entry fee at per child. Combined, the three contests register about 200 children.
“It’s a community service thing,” she said. “I think the fair as a whole is a very good time of coming together for the community. It’s just good, clean fun.”