Sara Zarse competes in Zero-Turn Mower Operator Competition

Photos by Tom Sparks

Sara Zarse, 13, of Goodland, negotiates the dreaded curve of the Junior Zero-Turn Mower Operator course at the Jasper County Fair as Judge Ryan Kohlhagen looks on and scores her efforts.

RENSSELAER — The Midway at Jasper County Fair may be vacant, but 4-H events continued.

It was more than mowing grass as the competitors took to the course in the Lawn and Garden Tractor and Zero-Turn Mower competitions held early Saturday morning on July 25. 4-H members vied for the coveted first-, second- or third-place trophies and ribbons that also garnered them a chance to move on to the district competition.

Just like the actual tractor operator competition, the two events were broken into junior and senior divisions. All of the competitions required a written test, a parts identification exam, a safety exam and the driving competition.

That driving competition forced the competitors to maneuver through a serpentine course lined with stakes on which golf balls were precariously held atop. Knock a golf ball or two off and accrue the penalties.

The courses also forced the drivers to mow against a curve, back up as close as possible to an obstacle, pull forward as close as possible without bumping and safely exit their mower to remove an obstacle in their path. The idea is to keep the penalties to a minimum so, like golf, the lower the score, the better.

The top three finishers all qualify to move on to District competition. The event was judged by Ryan Kohlhagen and Jake Misch. Kohlhagen has been a part of this project for 24 years and Misch was a 10-year 4-H member who had competed in the event previously.

The winner in the Lawn and Garden Compact Tractor Senior Competition was 16-year-old Kelsey Kohlhagen, of Rensselaer, who was the Indiana State Champion in the event last year. The runner-up was Kurt Kros, 16, of Fair Oaks, and Kent Hamstra, 17, of Fair Oaks, took third. All three finished in the exact same positions last year at the local Fair.

The junior winner was Katelyn Kros, 13, of Fair Oaks with Ryan Kellner, age 13, of Fair Oaks in second. Showing in third was Brayton Hamstra, 11, of Fair Oaks.

In the Zero-Turn Mower competition, the senior winner was Eric Zarse, 14, of Goodland. The Reserve Champion was Kristy Kohlhagen, 19, of Fair Oaks and in third was Anna Szczepanski, 18, of Morocco.

In the junior division of the Zero-Turn competition, 13-year-old Sara Zarse of Goodland took top honors with Jackson Jones, 12, of Rensselaer taking second. Thirteen-year-old Kendra Kohlhagen of Fair Oaks finished in third.

Awarded for the third year was a Most Improved Plaque. Named the Spencer Davis Most Improved Award, the honor is given in memory of the Rensselaer native who tragically lost his life on Sept. 19, 2017, when a jacked-up car fell on him as he was helping a stranger with vehicle trouble on the roadside. His parents, Shannon and Rod Davis, as well as his siblings were awaiting him at Pizza Hut when he failed to arrive.

Ten-year 4-H member Ethan Gastineau was honored with the Spencer Davis Most Improved Plaque, much to his delight.

Both the lawn and garden tractor and zero-turn mower were donated for use by Castongia John Deere Tractors and Equipment.