Published 12:00 am Friday, September 20, 2013

SALISBURY — Samuel Cheek, 8, was a man possessed.

He received a few tips about the handling of Penny, the market lamb in front of him, and then he took charge, parading her around the show ring, playing to the crowd and standing with her during the judge’s inspection.

Samuel’s mom, Ashley Cheek, said it was difficult for her son to contain his excitement during his day at Millbridge Elementary, and he got in trouble because of it.

“I’m going to the fair, I’m going to the fair,” he kept telling everyone.

Samuel, Jaylea Hughes, Colton Kober and a sheepish Caleb Brown participated Wednesday in the Exceptional Children’s Lamb Show at the Rowan County Fair.

After receiving some tips from their Future Farmers of America mentors, Samuel, Jaylea and Colton took to the show ring. Two walks around the ring sandwiched judge David Correll’s inspection, as the lambs and the children faced the crowd.

“Today, I think we definitely have three blue-ribbon winners in the ring,” Correll concluded as he handed out first-place awards to each child.

Beverly Hampton organized the first Exceptional Children’s Lamb Show four years ago when she was still a local high school student. Now a poultry science major at N.C. State University, Hampton sees the fair as a perfect place for special needs children to interact with market lambs and participate in a livestock show.

In addition, it gives a chance for FFA members in high school to share their show lambs and connect with some pretty special kids.

Sam Kennedy, a West Rowan High sophomore, named his lamb Jaylea in honor of his student.

“I named it ‘Jaylea,’ she named it ‘Mom,’ ” Kennedy said.

Jaylea Hughes is a sixth-grader at Erwin who was participating in her first show. “She wasn’t real sure what she was coming to do, but she was up for it,” Jaylea’s mom, Lanette, said. “I think it’s great — something she wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

Moms and dads of the kids are members of a support group called Parents with Passion and Purpose. Children range in age from 7 to 17. Some are home-schooled. Others attend elementary, middle and high schools.

Colton Kober, a sophomore at Carson High, loves animals so much he’s a vegetarian.

He likes to fish, and he’s always wanting to help animals, his mother, Carrie Kober said.

“This has been a great opportunity for him,” she added. “We are so grateful.”

The mother said Colton was nervous before entering the ring, and his FFA partner, Will Lytle, noticed that.

“I think he was mostly nervous about all the people out there,” said Lytle, a senior at West Rowan High. “And this sheep was nervous. I hope he had fun.”

Caleb Brown, 7, never quite warmed up to MacKenzie Catanese’s lamb, which stood as tall as him. Woody Brown, Caleb’s mom, said her son loves animals and fearlessly rides horses, “but he ain’t into sheep,” she noted.

Caleb crawled around the bleachers and enjoyed watching the show.

“It really is sweet of them to give this opportunity to the kids,” Woody Brown said of Hampton and the FFA high schoolers from South and West Rowan.

Abigail Raffaldt, a senior at South Rowan High, served as Samuel Cheek’s mentor. It wasn’t long before Raffaldt gave Samuel free rein and some free time with her lamb.

Samuel perched himself on a hay bale and pulled Penny toward him. The lamb and boy nuzzled each other, and Penny also seemed to like licking Sam’s jeans.

The FFA students showed their lambs later in the evening.

Asked how Jaylea conducted herself in the show ring, Sam Kennedy had the simple, obvious answer:

“First place,” he said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.