Thirteen-year-old Audrey Lemcke didn't have any experience showing pigs before Thursday, but that didn't stop her from winning a purple ribbon at the 2017 Wisconsin State Fair.
Lemcke was one of seven teens and children who showed animals at the fair's first-ever All for One Swine Show Thursday evening. The event paired young people with intellectual disabilities with mentors their age to give them a crash course in showing pigs.
Ten-year-old Matthew Perhach of Whitefish Bay grinned as soon as he started to work with his pig, Blue. His mentors showed him how to brush the pig and get the animal ready for showtime. In a few minutes, he led Blue to the arena with gentle taps from with a small whip.
"To reach out to kids with disabilities is amazing," Matthew's mom, Katie, said. "This is really quite an experience to go up close and get in the pen with (the pigs)."
The participants were from the greater Milwaukee area. The mentors, from all around Wisconsin, lent their own animals for the event.
Participant Alex Kuri, 16, of Muskego said he was a "big-time animal lover" who goes to the fair every year, but this was his first time in the ring with a pig.
With some help from his mentors, Kuri led his pig, Sparky, into the arena and braved questions from the judge. By the end of the show, he had a purple ribbon and a few new friends.
Fair organizers became interested in the idea after learning about a similar event at an Oklahoma fair, said Brian Bolan, fair agriculture director. Earlier this year, they began organizing their own edition. They chose pigs because they're an easy animal to work with on short notice, he said.
He described the All for One event as a win-win for everyone involved. It gives children with intellectual disabilities a chance to get up close with animals, and it lets the mentors share their talents, Bolan said.
“It’s great for these rural kids to come into the city and understand people aren't all the same," he said.
Bolan said organizers hope to expand the program next year.
Elysa Doherty, 18, was one of dozens of mentors who relished sharing their hobby with the newcomers. Her advice was simple: have fun and don't be nervous.
Doherty is a pig expert. She grew up on a hog and sheep farm near Johnson Creek and has shown pigs as long as she can remember.
"It's really special," she said. "It's like a pet, but a lot better."