Central Florida Youth in Ag to Debut Adaptive Showmanship Class for Kids With Special Needs
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Central Florida Youth in Agriculture is providing new opportunities for students to get involved with agriculture. Since the pandemic shut down meetings, exhibitions, and competitions a couple of years ago, CFYIA emerged to create a new forum for kids to engage in ag activities.
CFYIA was established to breathe new life into the Central Florida agricultural industry for young people. Over time, many of the youth fairs that once took place in and around Polk County have ceased operations.
Now, CFYIA is expanding its offerings so that it can reach even more kids. The organization will debut an Adaptive Showmanship Class at the CFYIA Livestock Show and Sale in March. This class will give all kids a chance to show off their skills handling cattle or swine, even if they need some assistance in the ring due to a disability.
The goal of creating the class is to allow all children in Polk County who want to participate in ag programs to have every opportunity to do so, without stigma or obstacles caused by any type of disability. Inclusion is key, and the criteria for enrollment in the adaptive class is simply that the exhibitors be younger than 18 and enrolled in a Polk County school.
Kacie Bryant has been one of the driving forces behind Central Florida Youth in Ag since its inception and currently sits on its board of directors. She is also the co-chair of the group’s cattle committee.
“There are several kids that have siblings that are involved with showing animals, whether it be cattle or swine, and we wanted to give these children an opportunity to show and exhibit their animals, too. The Cowabunga Classic, which is another show that happens in November, started it,” Bryant says. “Several of us also help with that show, so we wanted to bring it over to Central Florida Youth In Ag as well, with the hope that other shows will pick up an adaptive class also.”
She goes on to explain that youth in the Adaptive Showmanship Class will have the same opportunities as other exhibitors, including the chance to win buckles and other awards.
“It just gives them the opportunity to get out there, as well,” she says.
Sarah Hollie is a volunteer with Central Florida Youth In Ag who is helping with the adaptive class. The Hollie family has some cattle of their own, and they also raise and show horses. Hollie has two daughters involved with CFYIA, one of whom has special needs.
Maci is Hollie’s 9-year-old daughter who will be taking part in the adaptive class. This is Maci’s second year of involvement with CFYIA. Her 15-year-old sister, McKenzie, has been showing cows at youth fairs for several years. Before the introduction of the adaptive showmanship class, kids like Maci could only compete up through the age of 8 in the peewee categories.
Hollie explains why a special class needed to be created.
“These kids can do it, but let’s say some of these kids, what if they have a walker? What if they have a wheelchair? What if they have a cane? This gives them an opportunity to compete on their own. They’re still involved with the other kids, but it’s at their level so they can do it.”
McKenzie Hollie has a great perspective on what it means for kids with disabilities to have the chance to participate in an adaptive class.
“Ag means being involved in the future of what’s going to make us all survive,” McKenzie says. “I like getting to help my sister show. Getting to see her show is really special because there are not a lot of places for her to get to compete. I think CFYIA doing the adaptive show is a really good way to help kids get involved because most of the time they don’t get to be involved, and it’s kind of disappointing.”
Bryant is thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity for Central Florida kids and encourages everyone to support the local agricultural community as well as all of our future farmers and ranchers by spreading the word about the spring show.
“My hope is that this will not only get more kids involved in raising and showing livestock but will also gain more community involvement because it is very important that we educate how agriculture feeds and clothes all of us,” she says.
Central Florida Youth in Agriculture Livestock Showcase and Sale takes place March 22-25 at the Hayman Arena in Bartow. The adaptive showmanship will be held on March 23 at 9 a.m.