Half an hour before the contest was to begin, proud and eager parents were besieging the front door of the main building at the Calvert County Fair.
Samantha Windsor of Lusby, with her 6-month-old daughter, Lilly, in her arms, was one of those told to return in 15 minutes, when baby contest officials would start signing in the 6- to 15-month-olds.
"I'm entering her because she's beautiful, and everybody should see her," Windsor said, beaming. Lilly's grandmother then pointed to the child's uncle, Jesse Atchison, 19, who stood, now embarrassed, a few feet behind Windsor. She said he had been a runner-up in the Little Prince pageant, for kids 4 to 7.
"He should have won because the winning child was from Anne Arundel County," she huffed. "That gives you an idea of how competitive it gets."
Calvert County's 119th annual fair opened Wednesday and closes at 6 p.m. today. Each year, about 40,000 people attend the celebration of Calvert's rural traditions. Although its crowds are smaller than those drawn to the Charles and St. Mary's county fairs, Calvert outdoes those fairs in one area: pageants.
In the children's pageants, of which there are many, 225 youngsters registered this year. While some of those who registered failed to show, most did -- making the fair's main building teem with anxious families, howling children and the several relatives in each contestant's entourage.
Each of the contests is divided into several classes. There is the Baby Contest I, for kids 6 to 15 months old; Baby Contest II, for those 15 to 24 months; and the Tots Contest, for children 2 to 4 years old. For 4- to 7-year-olds, there are the Little Prince and Little Miss competitions.
The contests are divided between boys and girls and then by age again within each pageant. For example, in the first Baby Contest, the infants compete in three classes -- 6 to 9 months old, 9 to 12 months and 12 to 15 months.
Not to be forgotten are the Lord Calvert and Miss Tranquility contests for high school students, with the winners each receiving a $1,000 scholarship. And four years ago, the fair introduced two awards for senior citizens -- the Golden Lady and the Silver Fox.
Inside the main building Thursday, Yvonne and Siegfried Weber sat at a lonely table in front of the beach-themed dais, charged with the unenviable task of judging other peoples' children. On the table before them were charts with the three factors on which they were to rate the babies: appearance, personality and apparent health.
One volunteer said that the contest used to have a performance portion but that organizers realized that at 15 months old and younger, most children couldn't do much in the way of performing. The Webers had never judged a pageant of any kind before this one. They were recruited by Yvonne's sister, a volunteer at the fair. They met the sole criterion: They live outside Calvert County.
As the show started, Nakida Mackall was asked why she wanted to enter her 6-month-old son, Kweli. "Because he told us to do it," she joked. "Everybody thinks their baby is the cutest, and we want everybody to think our baby is the cutest." Will McCrady, the event's master of ceremonies, announced contestants onstage while the newly crowned Miss Tranquility and Lord Calvert -- Julie Bodenhorm and Michael Washington -- handed out ribbons and trophies to the winners amid the din of crying babies and snapping cameras.
As the judges conferred during an intermission, McCrady said this was the hardest part of the event for the children.
"Getting your kid to walk up onstage and say hi is the easy part," he said. "But where the difficulty comes in is making them sit still and be quiet as they wait."
Outside the main building, there was much more on display: lively arts and crafts, livestock, produce and entertainers. People made the rounds of the fairgrounds at their own pace, riding the Zipper or enjoying an oyster sandwich from the Rotary Club's trailer.
Franklin Wood, a 71-year-old farmer from Huntingtown, stood in the Farm and Garden Building explaining how a hogshead barrel was loaded back in the heyday of Maryland's tobacco trade. The product was then shipped to Baltimore, he said, where it was sold, typically to buyers from Switzerland, where there was a high demand by cigarette makers for Maryland's fast-burning blend.
As the baby contest continued in the main building, 4-H members were showing off goats in a barn. Randi Branson of Port Republic and her daughter Casey watched. Casey would be showing her Nigerian dwarf goat later in the fair. Branson was glad it was just the goat they were showing:
"I'd say a kid would be harder. Animals are more predictable."
Shelbey Willson, 9 months old, and rivals were judged on such factors as appearance and personality.
The first place and grand champion winner of the sample tobacco 2005 crop category at the Calvert fair.