Alabama 4-H’ers compete at UM

High temperatures didn’t affect Lauren Cooper’s competitive spirit as she barbecued chicken halves in hopes of winning the much-coveted Chicken-Que contest title during Alabama 4-H Competitive Events Day at the University of Montevallo Friday.

“The judges will look to see if we’re practicing fire safety, and they’ll taste the chicken to see if it’s cooked all the way through,” said Cooper, 16, a Tuskegee native and a rising senior at St. Jude Educational Institute in Montgomery. Cooper has been a 4-H member since she was six years old.

“It’s just fun to be able to do something on your own and learn skills that you’re going to need later on in life.”

Cooper and 185 4-H’ers from 42 Alabama counties competed against one another in cooking, gardening, quilting, storytelling, woodworking, persuasive and informative speech and freestyle demonstration.

Adam Shuman, 13, a home-schooled student from Winston County, demonstrated how to dismantle and reassemble a desktop computer.

“I’ve been working with computers and stuff for years,” Shuman said. “I like to take stuff apart, and I get to show off what I know.”

Contests such as freestyle demonstration and storytelling are recent additions to Competitive Events Day. Lamar Nichols, Alabama 4-H assistant director for youth and development, said 4-H has ventured outside its agriculture and family consumer science base to offer more creative activities.

“We try to move with the needs of young people because they’re the fastest moving sector in society,” Nichols said. “We’re trying to be conscious of the world as technologies change and youth interests change.”

Nichols wants to introduce a new competitive event next year involving digital storytelling. Contestants will shoot and edit video, then upload their digital stories to Web sites like Facebook and YouTube.

“We need to prepare for the future, not what we had in our past,” Nichols said. “It’s about meeting today’s kids with today’s needs.”

Alabama 4-H, founded in 1909, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Its members promote the values of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

Janet McCoy, Alabama 4-H program coordinator, said despite technological advances, the core of 4-H remains the same.

“The thing that makes 4-H so special is each 4-H experience is based on how you make it,” McCoy said. “It’s very personal and individual and it continues today. It’s the same as it was 100 years ago.”