HARRINGTON — A welcome return to normalcy was a recurring theme as the 102nd Delaware State Fair concluded on Saturday.
Face masks were hard to spot as visitors leisurely strolled through the grounds. While significant COVID-19 related restrictions were in place during the 2020 fair, this year’s event resembled 2019 and before.
As she worked to set up the Greenwood Mennonite School’s food booth, manager Andrea Warfel reflected on what a year away from the fair meant to her.
“The fair is one of my favorite two weeks of the summer, being here, working with all the people,” she said. “I did miss it greatly last year.
“It seems like a fairly normal fair this year. There’s lots of people coming, eating, participating, so it seems like a pretty regular time.”
Ms. Warfel said business had been good, which was echoed by Allen Perkins, who set up his Perkins Pizza stand for a 34th year. Mr. Perkins traveled from Florida for last year’s state fair, but said sales were approximately half of a normal stay in Delaware.
“What we’ve been learning from folks is that they are sick of being cooped up at home and want to get out, so this year is going to be a good year for us,” he said.
The weather apparently helped, too. Mr. Perkins described it as “beautiful” and Ms. Warfel found it to be “perfect.”
Shortly after winning a women’s horseshoe pitching competition for a second time in four tries (she finished as runner-up the two other years), Magnolia’s Sharwander Smith said the lessened hand sanitizer, mask and social distancing concerns were noticeable this time.
From what Peach Blossom 4-H Club member Leighton Webb, 17, of Greenwood surmised, “there were many more events this year and definitely a lot more people here, especially (Friday) night.
“The traffic was unreal (when) trying to get into this place. It’s definitely a different atmosphere.
“There were no-shows in the grandstand last year, there was not a whole lot of excitement. It’s back this year, it’s definitely a return to (the way it was before).”
While 4-H exhibitors dropped by a third from a typical year this time, state director Doug Crouse attributed that to months of pandemic-related restrictions and “a lot of kids who have not reactivated yet.”
In any case, Mr. Crouse said, coming to Harrington this year was a big deal after a year away.
“This is the showcase of our 4-H year, it’s what the kids have been working on, learning, doing, preparing their exhibits for,” he said.
“This is the culmination of all that. We missed it terribly last year. The kids did everything virtually, there were no competitions on the grounds.
“So being back this year has been uplifting, really, it’s been great to see the people, to watch the kids and see what they’ve learned.”
There’s only so much that can be done via Zoom, Heather Coverdale, of Hartly, said as she waited for her 10-year-old son to compete in a compact tractor driving competition.
“You definitely appreciate the things that the kids were able to do in the past and those things are definitely coming back this year,” she said.
“They love it and it’s great to see the kids getting back together, seeing the sportsmanship and camaraderie between them.”
Dover resident Brent Blankenship sung the national anthem before an antique tractor pull contest commenced at Quillen Arena, where spectators appeared to be spaced as any other pre-pandemic year.
According to Mr. Blankenship, “I wanted to come down here last year, but with everything going on with COVID I didn’t. I didn’t feel comfortable enough, but it’s nice to be back.”
The impact of this year’s state fair revival was enormous, Mr. Blankenship said.
“It’s just such a tradition,” he said. “I think it means a lot to everyone who’s involved with the fair, whether they’re participating or a member of the staff.
“I think it’s important for the farmers to have something like this and do all the events that they do. It’s just very important to the state as a whole.”