When fair returns, no more grease pole
Insurance company nixes popular event at Orleans County 4-H Fair
KNOWLESVILLE – One of most popular events at the Orleans County 4-H Fair has been banned by the fair’s insurance company.
The grease pole draws big crowds each night to watch teams try to reach the top of a 20-foot-pole slathered in grease. The teams often slip and struggle, and many don’t complete the challenge. It is a fun spectacle for the crowd, which tends to offer encouragement to the teams.
There have been sore necks and backs, but no one has ever needed First Aid in the 40 or so years of the competition, said Robert Batt, executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orleans County, which runs the fair.
He was notified about a month ago the insurance company would no longer allow the grease pole. Niagara County was trying to start the grease pole at its fair and told the insurance provider Orleans has long had the popular competition.
The insurance company rejected Niagara’s request, and also told Orleans it would have to end the event.
“It’s a total bummer,” Batt said.
An insurance company stopped the grease pole in the early ’80s, back when the event was held closer to Route 31 near the Trolley Building. After a few years, the insurance provider gave it another chance. The pole was relocated to the volleyball court with a softer surface on the west side of the fairgrounds.
The event has been a rite of passage for many 4-H’ers who join a team when they turn 18. Batt was among the 4-H’ers who gave it a try.
Batt didn’t know of another fair that had the grease pole. It was a daring event in a fair that doesn’t have a demolition derby and doesn’t allow alcohol.
“I had never seen it at any other places,” Batt said. “It’s something maybe we could try to get back into in a few years.”
The fair is coming up with a new challenge that Batt thinks will be a crowd-pleaser. Teams of two will need to push a giant round hay bale in a circle.
Jeremy Neal, the grease pole chairman, is heading the effort of the new challenge. He is experimenting on the course and size of the hay bales.
“We are testing it to make sure a person can do it,” Batt said. “We want it to be challenging. It won’t be easy.”
The hay bale rolling event will be open to competitors 16 and older. That is 2 years younger than the cutoff for the grease pole.
It will be easier for people to form teams because they won’t need as many members, and they won’t destroy shirts and jeans from the event like with the grease pole. They also won’t have to worry about gobs of grease getting in their hair.
This year’s fair – ‘a lot of unknowns and questions’
Regarding this year’s fair, scheduled for July 26-31, Batt said the fair officials are waiting for guidelines from the state Department of Health.
The fair committee is planning for a range of versions of the fair – from a small scaled down version with livestock shows, 4-H exhibits and drive-through dinners to a nearly full fair with rides and lots of entertainment.
“I’m as hopeful as hopeful can be,” Batt said. “But right now there are a lot of unknowns and questions.”