The sheep show ring was probably the most impactful place of my school years. I made many of my best friends around a show ring. I learned to set goals and work hard and never give up standing on that dirt. Literal blood, sweat, and tears fell there. There are little moments seared in my memory–a hug from my Dad as I walked out with an unlikely banner, playing cards in the pig barn with friends who are now gone, seeing tears in my ag teacher’s eyes over the fence–that all happened in a show ring.
I suppose it was fitting that I would experience what feels like the most defining moment of our nation in the show ring too.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was sheep show day. Keep in mind, back then we didn’t have smart phones, and the news was slow to reach the barns. My mom had heard it driving over from the motel and told us about two planes hitting the World Trade Center. I remember the Sullivan’s trailer had a tiny black and white tv that they set up with the news on and everyone would take turns crowding around that little screen trying to make sense of what we were seeing.
The show went on. Bad news kept being relayed. The Pentagon. A missing plane. A crash in a field in Pennsylvania. All flights grounded. The fair closing down to everyone except for animal exhibitors.
I remember that afternoon, the adults gathered all of the 4-H and FFA kids in the sheep show ring. We held hands and prayed. Looking back now, on a day that felt completely out of control and like there was nothing we could do, that was the perfect action for a group of adults to plan for a group of scared kids.
That night the fairgrounds was empty. I can still see the Midway usually packed with people, completely empty.
It was a day none of us will forget. It was a moment that changed the world as we knew it. And while there was no good place to face such a horrible day, in a show ring with my parents, brother, and other people who felt like family to me, sure seemed like the only right place to endure something so wrong.