The sounds of clippers buzzing in the steer barn, water running through the wash racks and the clank of gates closing greet the ears upon entering the barn. As youth, parents and instructors rush about tending to animals and engaging in the occasional jest, spectators look on in awe at the event that is the Oklahoma Youth Expo (OYE).
The scene is a familiar one, repeated for the last 99 years. The year 2015 brought an extra degree of excitement as the OYE celebrated its 100th anniversary.
With more than 7,000 youth exhibiting in excess of 13,000 animals in the centennial event, it takes a look at the previous 100 years to appreciate how much the expo has grown and the many people the world’s largest junior livestock show has impacted.
The precursor to the Oklahoma Youth Expo was the Oklahoma Breeders Show and Sale, first held in 1913. It was an instant success, and prompted the formation of the Southwest American Livestock Show Association in 1915.
The Oklahoma National Stockyards housed the show until 1921, when a coliseum was built for it, which burned in 1930.
It was the burning of the coliseum that provided show organizers with the opportunity to turn something bad into something remarkable. Without a coliseum, there wasn’t a venue large enough to host the 1931 show, so a junior show was held instead. It was such an instant sensation, the adult show never resumed and the name was changed to the 4-H and FFA Junior Livestock Show.
The show has existed for the success of its youth exhibitors ever since.
“The OYE promotes a multifaceted, family-oriented learning experience found in few other activities. Responsibility, discipline and hard work are required traits quickly developed in students as they raise their projects,” says Tyler Norvell, executive director of the Expo.
All the effort pays off. The reward is in the form of scholarships and premiums, accompanied by an incomparable livestock show experience. For many participants, like third-generation showman Blake Goss, 18, it is the intangible incentives that provide the most return.
“The OYE gives future agriculturalists the ability to stand out and show their hard work. Doing so teaches young people the life skills they will need in whatever profession they decide to pursue in the future,” says Goss.
A Growing Tradition
The show moved to the fairgrounds in 1958, and has remained there since, filling up more barn space each year.
This growth can be attributed to the investment of volunteers and the business community. For years, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce promoted and coordinated the show, ensuring it was a draw for exhibitors and the public.
Continuing its mission of supplementing premiums and bonuses, The Sirloin Club of Oklahoma contributed $142,500 at the 2015 premium sale.
A Bright Future
The show was incorporated into the Spring Fair in 1994 before transitioning to the Oklahoma Youth Expo in 2001, with the help of Jimmy Harrel and Bob Funk. Their hard work and effort won’t be short lived if they have anything to do with it.
“It is important to keep it going. It is worth the effort and money a number of us have spent on it,” says Harrel, vice-chairman of the OYE board of directors.
The 2015 premium sale grossed $1.25 million and more than $300,000 in scholarship money was awarded. The Oklahoma Youth Expo undoubtedly has the support to continue for another 100 years so Oklahomans can return year after year to the smell of freshly laid shavings and the familiar sounds.