For 13 Carroll County 4-H members, last-minute preparations are being made to enjoy one of the highest honors the organization offers.
The teens, among 36 representing Maryland, will fly to Chicago on Saturday to participate in the 4-H National Congress through Dec. 8. Only 1,500 4-H'ers out of 5.6 million members nationwide win trips to the national convention every year.
"They have been recognized as among the best in the nation," said county extension agent Robert Shirley, who works with the local 4-H clubs.
This group is the largest Carroll County has sent to the convention in recent years. Six Carroll County students won trips to Chicago last year and only three went the year before that, said county extension agent Rita Zimmerman.
"All these kids deserve this," Ms. Zimmerman said. "They've all waited their turn and now they all get to go together."
The cost of the trips is paid by state and national sponsors.
To be selected for 4-H Congress, members submitted a record of all the work they had done in their project area, which was judged on the local and state level. They were also interviewed about their projects during a state convention earlier this year.
Each 4-H'er chooses a specific project area upon becoming a senior member at the age of 14.
"This is the big prize for doing well in 4-H," said Westminster High junior Ginger Hull, who will represent Maryland in the Citizenship category. Members, many of whom joined 4-H at the age of 6 or 8, work their entire club careers for the honor, she said.
Once in Chicago, 4-H members attend banquets with project winners from other states, tour the city and participate in educational sessions with teen-agers from across the nation. Some members will also learn that they have won recognition and scholarships in their project areas on a national level.
"I'm looking forward to the country-western dance," said South Carroll High senior Tracy Clagett, amid laughs from her teammates. In addition to representing Maryland in the Public Speaking category, Tracy will be singing in the National 4-H Chorus that performs at various functions during the convention.
"We have to know every word of the music before we go out there to perform," said Tracy, adding that she had received her music last week. Practice for the group will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday, she said.
Many members said they were looking forward to meeting teen-agers from other states and hearing their perspectives about 4-H and their project areas.
Each is encouraged to exchange pins or other small tokens of friendship with the 4-H members they meet on the trip.
"I'm excited to go," said Matt Lippy, a sophomore from North Carroll High who won the trip in the Agriculture category. "I really want to meet other farmers from other states."
For Ginger, the trip will be an opportunity to be with her older sister, Heather.
Heather was one of 12 4-H'ers nationwide to win the Presidential Tray at the convention last year and is coming home from college to help chaperon the trip.
"I really enjoy doing things with my sister," Ginger said. "Now I will get some time to spend with her."
Group members said that, for the most part, their teachers were proud of their accomplishments and willingly gave them school assignments in advance to be completed by the time they return. This was particularly true for those from Westminster High School.
"My principal was Miss 4-H when my dad was Mr. 4-H," said Westminster High junior Melanie Soper of Principal Sherri-Le Bream.
The titles Mr. and Miss 4-H are given to top members every year, who represent the organization at county functions.
"She got to go to Chicago when she was in 4-H and wrote letters supporting my going," said Melanie, who is representing Maryland in the Achievement category, a combination of up to four categories in which the member has excelled.
Melanie usually enters projects in the Fashion Revue, Clothing, Sheep and Public Speaking categories.
Other Carroll County 4-H'ers going to Chicago are Shane Martin, a Westminster High sophomore representing the state in the Bicycle category; Johanna Judy, a North Carroll High junior representing Breads; Jenny Brothers, a Westminster High junior representing Clothing; Ben Fair, a North Carroll High senior representing Conservation; Jimmy Woods, a senior at South Carroll High representing Rabbits, and Marti Fair, who represents Veterinary Science. Marti will start classes at Frederick Community College this year.
Gilda Hogan will represent the state in Leadership, Ken Sterner in Marksmanship and Gabe Zepp in Beef.
The three were unavailable for interviews this week.