To the point week of 7-21-11


BEING A COMPETITIVE PERSON,  most times when I attend some sort of competition, I usually like to handicap the field and pick out my “favorite”.

Monday night at the Switzerland County 4-H Fair, as I entered the grandstand area to take some photos of the greased pig contest, it didn’t take long to find my favorite.

Max was hanging around the door that led from the stands to the muddy pit where the pigs were. His eyes were fixed on the pigs as his fingers curled around wire of the chain link fencing.

As I got closer to the doorway, I thought I’d strike up a conversation, so I said “Howya doing tonight?”

But Max had none of that – he was focused on the task ahead. My conversation was met with silence.

“Hey, Max! Come over here” came a voice from behind me. With that, Max steered around some of his fellow contestants, past me, and over to Matt.

Matt Harsh, I came to find out, was Max’s dad. I walked over, said hello to Matt, and asked how old Max was.

“He’s two,” Matt said.

“And he’s going to go in there and chase those pigs?” I asked.

“He can’t wait,” Matt smiled.

The next few moments involved Matt and Max going over strategy. There were pink ribbons tied to the top of the heads of some of the pigs; and the point was to run out into the mud, catch a pig; retrieve the ribbon; and bring it back to the men running the contest. The first one back with a ribbon was declared the winner.

Max’s task was to get a ribbon.

After talking with his dad, Max wandered back to the gate, staring at the pigs and plotting his path to the ribbons.

He had the look of battle, dressed in green, sporting a green tank top and some long green shorts. Camouflage crocs completed the uniform.

“Should he take off his shoes?” I asked Matt.

“Nah, he wants to wear them,” was Matt’s response.

With that, the gate opened and Max was one of the contestants in the next heat. He walked out and moved to the right, staying on more stable dirt before wading into the muddy muck.

I moved inside the fence, too, just behind Max. As emcee Tom Stow spelled out the rules over the public address system; I caught Max’s eye.

“Good luck and go fast,” I offered.

Again, no response.

“This kid is good,” I thought to myself. “I picked the right kid to beat.”

With that, someone shouted “Go!”, and the contestants waded out into the mud.

Lots of water had created some sort of temporary swamp, but that didn’t stop Max, who ran with his fellow pig hunters right over to the corner, where all of the pigs had gathered.

There was a lot of grabbing, but no one seemed to come away with a ribbon. Someone tried to pick up one of the pigs; and another grabbed a swine leg, but no one was able to simply grab a ribbon.

Max got in early, but he didn’t bother to grab a ribbon, either. At one point he came out of the scrum and headed to the middle of the swamp, apparently developing a new strategy. The green shorts were now a murky grayish-brown; and it appeared that he had brown socks pulled above the knee.

Then, a pig broke loose and headed away from the pack.

“Brilliant,” I thought. “Max got away from the crowd of kids, and now a pig is going to run right to him. What a champion!”

As the pig raced by, however, Max surveyed the crowd in the stands.

Missed opportunity.

Suddenly Max got back in the game. A young lady had grabbed the first pink ribbon, but there were still two more to go. The pigs had changed corners, and another pack of pigs and kids were intertwined against the fencing.

Again Max shifted position, wading back out until he was about thigh-deep in muddy water. A second ribbon was captured; and he must have sensed the now was the time to go for ribbon number three.

At one point he stumbled in the mess, sitting down in the mud to cover the only patch of green left on his clothing. Even covered in the mud, he was still focused on his task.

As I watched, Max began to run in circles around the mud; and even after the third ribbon had been secured by someone else, Max was still happily slogging through the mud.

As he moved toward the gate, it was discovered that he had lost a shoe, so the men running the event took some time to run their hands through the mud puddles, hoping to hit the shoe. At one point, Matt came into the mud to try and find the shoe again; but when that failed, he picked up Max, mud and all, and carried him out into the grandstand area.

A cheer went up when one of the men found Max’s shoe; and he took great joy in having all of his family members congratulate him on his efforts.

“Good job, Max,” I said; and this time, with the competition over, he looked at me and simply said “thank you”, and then turned back to his dad.

Why do I tell you this story? First of all, because Max was one cute kid; but mainly because of the lesson that he taught me.

Max was at this year’s fair to have fun, and he did just that. It didn’t really matter that he didn’t get a ribbon; but it really didn’t matter. The fun wasn’t in the win, the fun was in playing.

So many times we get caught up in who’s winning and what the score is. We argue over blue ribbons and red ribbons and who’s coming out on top.

When those passions overcome our love of doing something just for the joy of it – we run the risk of taking the fun out of life. Not everything has to be a “job”.

Sometimes it’s okay to win the ribbon.

And sometimes it’s fun to simply run around in the mud.

Good job, Max.