Trainer John (Ty) Tucker shouted words of encouragement. "Look at him, he has great style and is he beautiful," Tucker said. "I really think we are going to win the competition."
Champ, his real name, is a chicken. Not your common chicken, mind you, but a prize fancy fowl Tucker hopes will win his fourth trophy at the Prince George's County Fair, being held this week at the Bowie Race Track. Young Tucker has groomed and worked with Champ for two years, trying to develop excellent feather color and good bearing.
For seven years, Tucker, his parents, and sisters Sheila, 16, and Laura, 19, have helped with the planning of the county fair and have been showing their animals there. They are five of the hundreds of people behind the scenes whose sweat and determination help make the yearly event a success, according to the organizers.
The fair, which opened Tuesday and will close Sunday night, is a collage of hundreds of craft, handiwork and agricultural exhibits and competitions along with carnival and entertainment events.
Competition is divided into two categories: 4-H and open class. Although cash prizes are awarded, they are minimal in most categories, and money is not an incentive for fair participation, said the Tuckers.
The fair is less than a week long, but exhibitors have been getting ready for months.
"As soon as last year's fair ended we began evaluating it and preparing for this year's fair," said Ann Tucker, Ty's mother. "The fair is something we strive for; it is the main event of the year for us."
The Southern Maryland Agricultural Fair Association of Prince George's Inc., owned by the Bowie track, organizes the event, which provides a forum for 4-H members and others to exhibit their skills, handiwork and animals. The Tuckers, all 4-H members, became involved in the fair in the early '70s, when the eldest son wanted to enter one of the family pigs in a contest.
"Eddie (the eldest Tucker child) became interested and he got the rest of the family involved," Clarence Tucker said. "Now Ty exhibits his chickens, and Laura and Sheila have exhibited sheep. This year my wife and I just help out."
The Tuckers live on the Bowie-Mitchellville border, in an area not known for its livestock production. For Clarence, raising animals has always been a hobby, one that gained his children's interest at an early age.
But his children, especially Ty, have not had an easy time with their hobbies. While Ty's friends discuss stamps, basketball and girls, his main interest is chickens.
"I have been teased for being a farm boy," Ty said. "But I am proud that I know how to raise and breed chickens, and I guess I am hassled because the others are jealous."
Clarence and Ann Tucker said they are proud of their children's interest in the fair. It helps "keep them in less trouble than they would normally get into," said Clarence.
"The fair and 4-H are family things, they help hold us together," he added. "It is hard work but it makes all of us quite happy."
And hard work it is. Last Saturday, Clarence went to the Bowie track early. While burly men dripping sweat pulled on ropes of a tent that will house livestock, Clarence helped set up pens for the cows, sheep, chickens, pigs and other animals to be judged during the fair.
Inside the pavilion, Ann and her friends were setting up booths for the 4-H exhibits of crafts, needlework, baked goods, canned goods and other handiwork.
"The hardest part of having the fair at the race track is converting it to a fairground year after year," Ann said.
Meanwhile the Tucker children wandered about doing odds and ends. Ty was trying to figure out how to wash his chicken. "That is going to be the hardest part," he said.
Although the fair has a strong farm flavor, an image the organizers have fought hard to maintain over the years in the face of the continuing urbanization of Prince George's, its theme is not limited to agriculture.
Both 4-H-ers and others compete in model rocket launching, crocheting, clothes making, canning, leather work, horsemanship, backpacking skills and any other handmade craft. Last year, one prize went to a woman who had made a dulcimer.
"The crafts part of the fair is very important to us," said Don Westcott, one of the organizers. "We want to get away from the image of just a carnival and midway. This is a real county fair."
Charles Tester of College Park heard about the fair in the late 1960s and decided he wanted to enter. A telephone company employe and needlework enthusiast, he has exhibited dolls he has crocheted and other needlework.
"Crafts are my life and the fair gives me a perfect outlet to exhibit my wares and gives me the thrill of competition," said Tester.
Westcott said that although the exhibits are important, the fair has more to offer. Tomorrow evening, Country and Western Singer Slim Whitman will perform at 5:30 and again at 8:30. On Sunday, country singing star Bobby Bare will entertain at 2:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon.
Miss Prince George's County Fair will be chosen tonight. On Saturday, there will be an English and western horse riding show and an archery competition.
The fair also encompasses commercial exhibits, which will include flea and novelty markets and booths of private organizations hoping to sell their services.
Admission to the fair is $1.50 on weekdays with children under 12 free and $2 Saturday and Sunday. Hours are 5 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. today and tomorrow, 11 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Sunday. The carnival will run until midnight Thursday, Friday and Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Sunday.
The colorful champ circled the ring while his 14-year-old trainer watched proudly. the champ's head was high and his spirit strong as he strutted with the confidence of a veteran fashion model.