La PORTE — The plain brown belt that Wanatah 4-H'er Jaye Mitzner has worn to every county fair since the second grade now will soon be adorned with a shiny new buckle.
On Thursday, inside a packed La Porte County Fair show arena, the 18-year-old captured the 2019 Supreme Champion Showman title, emerging victorious from a field of seven other expert 4-H showmen that evening. With his win, Mitzner becomes the second member of his family to win the decorative buckle, as his sister, Janelle, received the prestigious title three years ago.
"This was the main goal," Mitzner said, shortly after his victory Thursday, with his family, including Janelle, looking on proudly a short distance away. "This was why we worked so hard this year. This was the way we wanted this to go."
While Mitzner captured several big wins this week, including a Grand Champion award in Wednesday's Swine Show, the 4-H'er said if he could only walk away with one trophy from this year's fair, the buckle he held in his hands would be it.
Last year, the Cass Merrymakers 4-H club member came just a single point shy of winning the Champion Showman title, coming in second to Katelyn Rudolph.
To prepare for the event — in which each competitor had to show eight different animals — Mitzner did plenty of studying, and made a lot of new friends with other 4-H members, learning from them the various aspects of animals he lacked a lot of experience with, he said.
Another challenge he and the other competitors had to overcome was working with unfamiliar animals. Each animal shown was chosen from another 4-H'ers farm, and each showman rotated having the first pick of the lot for each category.
With all of these factors at play, Mitzner had a lot of work to do to prepare. On top of that, Mitzner knew he had to put everything he had into Thursday's showmanship contest, as this fair was the last year the 10-year member would able to compete, he said.
"I had no more chances," he said. "There was no tomorrow."
Mitzner felt he performed at his strongest Thursday while showing beef steers, and at his weakest while displaying the diminutive pygmy goats, he said.
"I'm a rather tall dude, and those goats are not very big," he joked.
Thankfully, the 18-year-old had an excellent support team behind him — his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, his friends and his sister, who, while pushing him harder than anyone, helped him cross the finish line, he said.
"Without her, this would not have happened," he said.
In the future, Mitzner hopes to pay it forward and help one of his neighbors, Dewey Advancers 4-H member Madison Scarborough, one day add her name to list of Supreme Champion Showman champions, he said.
For now, though, the young man can finally breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of fair week and the summer as a whole, before he heads off to Purdue to study farm management.
Still, he plans to continue making trips to the La Porte County Fair a part of his summer — and is looking forward to seeing his name listed below his sister's on the list of Supreme Champion Showman winners.
"That name will always be up there," he said.