This article was corrected Aug. 14, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
“Wear comfortable shoes,” said Kelsey Watkins, the outgoing Montgomery County Agricultural Fair Queen, to a crowd Sunday at the county fairgrounds in Gaithersburg just before relinquishing her crown.
When Watkins placed the sash and crown on the reigning 2012 Queen of the fair, 18-year-old Samantha Brown of Rockville, she passed on a legacy of tradition that began in 1983 by selecting both a king and queen for the first time.
“It felt so great,” Brown said. “I’ve been always wanting to be a queen and now that it’s here, [an item] on my bucket list is checked off.”
This is Brown’s third year on fair court, serving as first princess for the last two years. The reigning 2012 King of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, Michael Cropp of Damascus, said despite being named first prince last year, hearing his name called was “shocking.”
“We’re all the fair royalty. We’re all ambassadors of the fair,” Cropp, 17, said of the five girls and five boys selected to the fair court. “I gave a lot of public demonstrations, but right before we went on stage [tonight], my heart was beating [quickly].”
Jane Evans, the fair’s Royal Court Committee member, said each of the 18 applicants for the royal court submitted a résumé including their leadership experiences and contributions to the community — including work with 4-H and the Future Farmers of America organization — and are scored on an interview for poise and presentation of ideas. This year, applicants also wrote an essay posted in the dining hall about what they would do with $50,000 to improve the fair.
From there, Laytonsville resident Evans said, the applicants are judged and the top five girls and top five guys are selected to the court as princesses and princes. Two princesses and two princes are chosen from those 10 as first princess and first prince, and the queen and king.
Cropp was recently honored with the Master of Beef Advocacy Award at the National Junior Angus Foundation dinner, and Brown was selected to be one of Maryland’s representatives at the National 4-H Congress and received the Lawson King Award for Leadership. As king and queen, the two will do a series of library visits around the county to promote agriculture and the fair in the summer months leading up to the 2013 fair and emcee at the 4-H awards banquet. Last year, Watkins and fair King Michael Buscemi, 18, of Derwood, also attended the Damascus Day and Laytonsville parades.
“They can take away that they learned much more about public speaking skills and how to promote well the things they hold near and dear to themselves,” said Evans, whose two sons have both served as fair king.
Each member of the royal court was asked to prepare a speech that included their name, age, hometown, highlights from their résumé and a fun fact from the fair. Cropp’s fact was that last year at the live stock auction, 92,000 pounds of beef were sold, which reflected his background in beef, swine, sheep and meat goats, which he shows at the fair.
Brown, who will major in photography as Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga., in the fall, announced that about 3,000 pictures are taken by the official fair photographer each year. The entire royal court will put in about 600 community service hours at the fair this week.
Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz was a judge for the event for several years and served as a dignitary for the event Sunday.
“In a county where agriculture is not as prevalent as it used to be and to have 4-H be as active as it is is a nice feeling,” Katz said. “It makes you realize that the young people certainly deserve all of the awards they are receiving.”
Lorelei Irons, of Laytonsville, has served as chair for the Royal Court Committee for eight years. She said she’s worked more than 300 hours as chairman by coordinating library visits for the royal court in the summer months leading up to the fair, setting up judges for the selection committee and getting applications in order.
“These are the best-of-the-best, these kids,” Irons said. “They’re smart, they’re educated [and] their leadership is amazing — They’re our spokespersons.”
In an earlier version of the story we incorrectly stated the following: the number of hours Lorelei Irons has served as chair; the number of community service hours earned by the royal court; and the titles of the two runner-up positions on the royal court.