State fair bumping against school – Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

In another five days, the first Friday in August, the Indiana State Fair will swing open its gates and start welcoming the nearly 1 million people who visit the event each year.

It seems to be a perfect time to hold the fair, dead in the middle of summer, which technically runs from June 21 to Sept. 21, and in the last third of what has come to be the traditional summer season.

But the notion of packing up the family in the morning and heading out for a day at the fair is getting harder to accomplish.

As the school year starts earlier and earlier, more and more families are discovering that instead of going to the fair, their children will be heading out to class.

The fair starts Aug. 7, and classes at school districts in Allen County, for example, start Aug. 11. That gives families four days to visit the fair before school starts.

We’ve got it easy in Allen County, though. In central Indiana, some school districts are starting the school year a week earlier, before the fair even opens, and at least one school district actually started classes last Thursday, said Dr. Renee McKee, head of 4-H and youth development at Purdue University.

It makes one wonder, with school starting earlier and earlier, what effect is it having on the state fair, and what effect is it having on the ability of students in 4-H to participate in the state fair.

The fair has been dealing with this issue for some time. A few years ago, the fair was extended from 12 to 17 days so it would include three weekends, and most 4-H events are held on weekends, when students are available.

The 4-H Horse and Pony Show, though, is actually scheduled for Tuesday, three days before the start of the fair, McKee said.

Otherwise, school really doesn’t interfere with other 4-H competitions. Many exhibits prepared by 4-H participants are delivered to local extension agents well in advance, and they bring them to the exhibition hall and set them up. There are about 20,000 exhibits.

There are also 10,400 animal 4-H exhibits, but the students don’t necessarily have to be there for that, either.

In a way, McKee said, the shifting school year offers opportunities.

“Our enrollment starts in the fall, so we’re enrolling earlier,” she said. Also, because there are more and longer breaks during the school year, 4-H is able to hold programs during those times.

People have talked about this, McKee said. “I’ve been part of the discussion. But it is what it is. The state doesn’t control the start date for school. It’s all local. We’re not going to change it, so we’ll just have to figure out how to adjust.”

Lesley Gordon, a spokesman for the fair, said the issue has been a topic of discussion among fair board members, but there’s not a lot anyone can do except deal with all the moving pieces that make up the fair. For example, bank day was always on Friday. Now, it’s been moved to Saturday.

It doesn’t seem to have hurt attendance, though. McKee said it’s amazing to watch at 2:30 in the afternoon during the week and see the huge crowds that pour in. The fair is still one of the top five in the country in terms of attendance, Gordon said.

But going back to school on July 29? In my day, that would have spurred a revolution.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.