Hayden Leathercrafts judge Lane Kihlstrom sat at a table in a Hayden High School classroom Saturday as 4-H children showed him leather walnuts, knife holsters and patches of leather with designs in them.
Kihlstrom is a big man, built like an offensive tackle.
He dwarfed the children who sat across from him. But he leaned down on the table to get to their level and fired off numerous questions.
"What tool did you use here?"
"If you could change something on your project, what would it be?"
"What did you like most about your project?"
"Why did you do this weave?"
"Do you have any questions for me?"
The children, who range in age from 9 to 18, squirmed in their seats.
They stared into nothing while searching for the answers, touching the leathercrafts with their fingers as they talked and eventually got through the interview process most sighing with a big smile at the end.
Interviews with Kihlstrom are one segment of 4-H Exhibit Day.
"These interviews help them build confidence," Kihlstrom said. "You just try not to scare them to death... When I was in 4-H, interviews were frightening."
The interview process for children participating in exhibit day is a grand finale of sorts.
Projects include just about everything imaginable such as clothing, cake decorating, leathercrafts, woodcrafts, cooking, entomology presentations, rocket building and photography.
A written portion must be turned in with each project and then each child must go through an interview process, which is similar to a job interview.
Along with learning the skill the project cultivates, the one-on-one interviews prepare children for future college and job interviews, 4-H Extension Agent Deb Alpe said.
"That's what 4-H is all about," she said. "If they make a mistake here, they understand why they made the mistake. It's youth development."
A grand champion and reserve champion will be picked in each project category and within the several skill units within each category.
Those children will move on to the Colorado State Fair to do the interview process over again. The remaining children have their projects displayed during the Routt County Fair, which begins next weekend.
"It's definitely interesting," 16-year-old Nicci Bonfiglio said. "I have no idea what they are going to say."
She did cake decorating and had to explain how she did her design why she chose to do it.
"It kind of puts you on the spot. You don't want to say the wrong thing," Bonfiglio said.
Glenn Frentress, 17, said after numerous years in 4-H, he is not intimidated by the interviews anymore.
"I've learned how to handle myself," he said while waiting to talk to a judge about his wood project. "This is a lot different than speaking in front of people."
Prizes were handed out Saturday night. Alpe said the prizes are rewarding for the children who have spent long hours on their projects. But the experience of representing themselves and learning self confidence are the most important things they receive.
"This is the piece of 4-H that they take with them," she said.
To reach Doug Crowl
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