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Posted: January 4, 2014 10:00 p.m.

4-H forever: Competition is Jan. 9

Every eye is on you. The room is silent, and suddenly you can’t remember the introduction to your speech.

You look down at the note cards clutched tightly in your hands for the cue, glance over to be sure the posters are right side up, and take the plunge.

Five minutes later you’re enjoying the sweet applause. and the fear is nearly forgotten.

"Don’t worry," you tell your friend who is up next. "It wasn’t as bad as I thought."

Some fifth-graders are gifted with the confidence to do this without butterflies beating frantically to escape from the pits of their stomachs, but most of us have a very similar case of the nerves.

More than 80 percent of fifth-graders in Newton County 4-H clubs presented their 4-H demonstrations in the fall, and now the test of County Project Achievement comes this week.

Starting at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Cloverleaf 4-H’ers from across Newton County will compete at Eastside High School

It’s not too late if your 4-H’er has yet to register; just call at 770-784-2010. We can also use more judges if you can volunteer.

Every county project competitor earns 5,000 4-H points for his/her club and an invitation to the banquet. Top competitors in each project advance to district competition.

Competitors who reach the district level get a week of early camp registration and qualify to apply for camp scholarships. But more than all that, each gains something that will last a lifetime.

Most of the kids can’t believe how nervous I was to present my first demonstration.

My aunt would cut out articles about overcoming shyness as I avoided talking to customers at her shop. The insurance man used to give me pocket change to bribe me to say hello.

And fifth grade was the culmination of probably the worst teasing I endured through school, so standing in front of those classmates wasn’t my idea of a good time.

But my 4-H leader, Ms. Myra Hayes, said we’d earn 4-H points for doing our speeches, and I couldn’t pass that up.

To this day, I admire most leaders and teachers who expected the most from me.

I learned more from the college professor who expected us to read court summaries for hours and actually remember them for class discussion, before giving all-essay exams, than I did from the professor who read the text to us each day like preschoolers and gave the minimum two or three multiple-choice tests.

And I benefited the most when my 4-H leaders pushed me to step outside my comfort zone.

Even after giving my presentation in the classroom, it was still pretty hard at County Project Achievement. I promise you, I think there were a million people, or at least a thousand, in that school classroom watching the arts and crafts demonstrations!

After facing my fear and that huge crowd, I was already coming up with a contingency plan as I we waited on the results. I heard that if we didn’t win, we could sign up for a project that no one entered, and I had already thought of a project I’d be willing to do when they called my name in first place.

My judge, Doug Hargrove, came over to suggest I lost the note cards before district competition, and the reality set in—I had really done it!

I hardly remember the district competition, but I won again.

At the 4-H banquet that year, I watched the older 4-H’ers win awards for state and national events, judging teams and the coveted "Master 4-H Club."

At that point I thought, "Who cares who I had to talk in front of next?" I had my goal.

Speeches eventually got easier to give, despite a few lingering butterflies, and it paid dividends.

My projects took me on five free trips to Rock Eagle, one to State 4-H Congress and one to National 4-H Congress.

This, in addition to my other 4-H work, led to college scholarships and even a college job.

While attending college, paid in part by my speaking with 4-H, one of my first classes was public speaking with about 25 freshmen. Half the class was terrified when we got our first assignment: a five-minute speech with posters and props.

Me? I’d been doing that and more since the fifth grade thanks to 4-H.

"Don’t worry," I told them. "It isn’t as hard as you think."

Ms. Myra would be proud.

Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at tkimble@uga.edu.

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