Section 14: Competitive Events


This section defines the policies under which 4-H competitive events are conducted. State and National entries from Nebraska 4-H members or programs must conform to both state and national policies and regulations.

14.1 Competitive Programs and Events Background:  Policy

Competition at all levels has been a part of 4-H since the program began. Competitive events are important educational methods in programming, evaluation and feedback. Participation in competitive events help 4-Hers learn to make and defend decisions and speak publicly. In addition, they gain knowledge and skills and learn good sportsmanship through competition.

14.2 Competition and Youth Development:  Policy

4-H’s mission is to empower youth to reach their full potential through working and learning in partnership with caring adults. Many volunteers and staff work to assist youth in developing knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable them to become productive and contributing members of society. It is important for adults to keep this goal in mind and recognize that youth need to learn how to complete projects, not someone else. While there are obviously differences in the abilities of an eight-year-old as compared to an 18-year-old, the potential for youth to learn is always greatest when youth are responsible for completing the various aspects of their project.

In competitive events, parents and others focusing on winning the competition and not on developing the youth can overlook the mission of youth development. The following principles should be recognized for determining rules regarding 4-H members doing their own work.

  • 4-H is a family-oriented organization and help from family members is appropriate for some aspects of the project. However, the exhibitors should have increasing responsibility as they mature in their project skills. 
  • Teamwork is a life skill and working together with other 4-H members is appropriate.
  • Professionals or individuals who are paid to do similar work and are older than 4-H age and not related to the youth, should not be involved in aspects of the project that are directly related to exhibition and competition. Along with principles, the following questions should bex asked for determining rules regarding 4-H members doing their own work:
    • Is the 4-H member capable of completing the work, even if the level of expertise is different from other youth or adults?
    • Are other youth of similar age capable of completing the work? Is the assistance offered by other exhibitors or family members focused on competition for exhibition or is the youth involved in the process and able to improve his/her own skills? 

14.3 Competitive Event Definition and Criteria:

14.3.1 4-H Competitive Event Definition  Policy

A 4-H competitive event is one in which 4-H members compete individually or as teams for special recognition. The 4-H Name and emblem are used to name and promote the event. The term “event” is used for 4-H divisions/ classes and activities that are part of a larger program, which includes non-4-H competitive events, as well as those events exclusively 4-H. 4-H competitive events include judging contests, presentations, project exhibits and other performance events open to 4-H members. When competition is a major part of an event, it must be understood that competition is secondary to the education and development of youth.

14.3.2 Criteria for 4-H Competitive Events  Policy

  • Sponsored/co-sponsored and/or conducted by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) staff.
  • Approved by and/or conducted by Extension staff responsible for the event.
  • Rules and regulations established by or approved by Extension staff responsible for the event.
  • Open to participation by 4-H members from county, group of counties, state, region, or nation.
  • Participants must be enrolled in 4-H during the current 4-H year.
  • Approval to use the 4-H name and emblem.
  • Utilize the name and emblem of 4-H in promotion and recruitment.
  • Provide a safe and healthy environment with a positive educational experience for youth.

14.3.3 Operational Guidelines for Committees for Competitive State Events  Guidelines

General guidelines for organization, appointment, and operation of management committees are required if the event and/or activity occurs annually. One-time events or activities are not obligated to meet these criteria. Similarly, advisory groups without voting authority are not obligated to meet these criteria.

  • Representation:
    • The committee membership must include a Nebraska Extension Specialist, either in the subject matter of the event or from the State 4-H Youth Development staff, and a member from the county Extension staff. Other members of the committee may be individuals who represent 4-H volunteers, business, or industry. The committee may be composed entirely of Extension staff.
    • The State 4-H Program Administrator will appoint a person to serve as liaison between the management committee and 4-H.
    • A role definition of the committee will be established prior to committee appointment. The qualifications for the proposed committee members should accompany a proposal for appointment. Committee members should have experience with 4-H and/or University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension.
  • Terms:
    • State Fair Management: Committee members are appointed for three-year terms, except where one-year appointment is appropriate; (i.e., youth membership.) When establishing new committees, one-third of the membership should be for three years, one-third for two years, and one-third for one year so continuity is established. Members may be re-appointed once for a three-year term.
    • Horse Advisory: 4-H leaders, parents, and trainers can serve up to a 3-year term on the committee before being rotated off with other prospective members to bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm for a strong youth program. A member may succeed him/herself before the maximum term but not exceed it. Extension personnel are not limited to the 3-year term due to the limited number of equine personnel in the organization (the term is unlimited until personnel would like to resign).
  • Appointment:
    • Recommendations for 4-H management committees for 4-H competitive events will be made by the proposed group and appointed by the State 4-H Program Administrator.
    • No committee will be appointed without a written role definition and expectations of the committee and members.
  • Dissolution:
    • Committee(s) may be dissolved by the State 4-H Program Administrator subject to approval of the Dean and Director of University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension.

14.4 Age Divisions for 4-H Events:  Guidelines

Age divisions for contests sometimes vary; therefore, it is important to review event age rules for specific contests that have regional, state and/or national events. The NE State Fair has established the following age divisions:

  • Intermediate Division: 4-H ages ten (10) to thirteen (13)
  • Senior Division: 4-H ages fourteen (14) to eighteen (18)

At the county level, when there are three age divisions available, suggested age divisions would be:

  • Junior Division: 4-H ages eight (8) to ten (10)
  • Intermediate Division: 4-H ages eleven (11) to thirteen (13)
  • Senior Division: 4-H ages fourteen (14) to eighteen (18) 

14.5 Nebraska Regional Events:  Procedure

Where Regional events are held, registrations should be made through the local Extension office. Age eligibility will be consistent with Nebraska 4-H policy. Specific event rules and procedures will be located on the state 4-H web page:

14.6 State Events:  Policy

Entries in State 4-H competitive events will be made through the local Extension office and/or individually online. Entries may be team or individual as governed by the event rules and regulations. The Extension Educator/Assistant is responsible for certifying the eligibility of 4-H participants from the county.

14.6.1 Minimum requirements to hold a state contest  Policy

If a contest does not have a minimum participation of 20 youth from at least five different counties. The contest will be placed on probation for a year. If, during the probationary year, participant numbers do not meet or exceed the minimums above, state support of the contest will be discontinued. When a new contest is piloted, the pilot year will not be included in probation.

14.6.2 State Judging and Related Contests  Policy

Any team member that participates in the designated National 4-H contest is ineligible to compete again as a team member at the state level contest, excluding Horticulture and Dairy Judging individuals. Individuals, who are part of a team that go to an invitational contest that is not the designated national contest, are eligible to compete on a team at the state level contest. All individuals who participate in a designated National level contest may return and compete as an individual in state competition. These individuals, excluding Horticulture and Dairy Judging individuals, cannot compete on a team. An individual may enter a National 4-H competitive event in a specific program area only once. Participating members of a team entry (even if they are designated alternate by low score) are ineligible to enter the same event again as a part of another team at a National 4-H competitive event. The membership of the team at a National Contest must be the same individuals that participated in the state event.

The designated national contests for the subject matter include:

  • • Livestock Judging: The National 4-H Livestock Judging Contest at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY.
  • Meats Judging: The National 4-H Meats Evaluation and Identification Contest, sponsored by the American Royal and American Meat Science Association, Kansas City, MO.
  • Livestock Skillathon: The National 4-H Livestock Skillathon Contest at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY.
  • Livestock Quiz Bowl: TBD
  • Dairy Cattle Judging: The National 4-H Dairy Judging Contest held at the World Dairy Expo, Madison, WI (alternating years)
  • Horse Judging: Western National Roundup in Denver, CO.
  • Horticulture Judging: The National Junior Horticultural Association Convention (location varies by year).
  • Shooting Sports: 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships held in Grand Island, NE through 2026).

14.7 United States Regional & National Events:  Policy

14.7.1 Eligibility Rules for Regional and National Events

Individuals/teams representing Nebraska at National competitive events will be consistent with current Guidelines for 4-H Multi-State Competitive Events or the respective policies/guidelines for other national contests. 

See respective contests for specific age/eligibility requirements. Contestants must not have completed post-secondary coursework in the subject area of the National 4-H competition, nor has he or she participated in training for post-secondary competition in the subject area of the National 4-H competition. The State 4-H Program Leader or designee are responsible for determining the eligibility of participants in National 4-H Competitive Events from their respective states.

Participants in Regional or National 4-H events must meet the eligibility requirements of the event.

Entries for Regional or National competitive 4-H events without qualifying events and restrictions on participation should be made through the Extension Educator/Assistant.

Regional or National events with restricted representation from the state will have delegates selected under the supervision and approval of the state 4-H office.

When there are more National events than funded by the State, additional teams/ individuals may participate if given approval from the State 4-H Administrator. The Nebraska 4-H Foundation will not provide funding for these trips. Nebraska will have no more than one team or individual, depending on the event, represented, at any given national event. Teams representing Nebraska at the designated National event must have received no less than a fifth place ranking at the State level.

14.8 Progress/Open Shows/Non-4-H Competitive Events:  Policy

Only activities meeting all the criteria in 14.3.2 will be identified as a 4-H event. Field days, fairs, and other events not promoted or identified as 4-H and not identifying Nebraska Extension as the sponsor are not classified as 4-H events. 4-H assumes no responsibility for these events, nor will the awards from these events be considered as 4-H awards. Non-4-H Competitive Events are not eligible for 4-H accident and liability insurance.

It is appropriate for 4-H faculty and staff to serve in an advisory only or volunteer capacity at non 4-H competitive events.

14.9 Managing Client Complaints for 4-H Competitive Events:  Procedure

When complaints are taken to someone other than the Extension staff person responsible for the program or event about which the individual has a complaint, the individual receiving the complaint will direct the client to the responsible person. The individual receiving the complaint will alert the responsible Extension staff person that a complaint may be received.

If an Extension staff member or volunteer made an error resulting in a negative outcome for a client involved in a program or event, the Extension staff member responsible for that program or event will do everything possible to remove or minimize the negative outcome incurred by the client. However, it should be recognized that in cases where the error involves programs at a different “level” than that of the Extension staff member (i.e. National, Regional or State levels), it may not be possible to completely eliminate the negative outcome, as it is beyond the sole decision of that staff member. It is expected that all parties involved will use the highest ethical standards and positive youth development principles to handle the situation.

Each county is expected to have a grievance policy to handle 4-H related issues/ protests. The grievance policies for state events are located in Section 2.8. For other situations, the most appropriate grievance procedure may be the procedure outlined in the corresponding county or event rules.

Clients having a complaint should be reminded of that procedure and asked to follow the procedure if they wish to file a grievance. Grievances do not have to be addressed unless the written procedure has been followed.

It is suggested that Nebraska Extension staff review the guidelines for grievances as a team annually. At the same time, complaint procedures should be reviewed with members of the 4-H Council so that they are aware of the protocol to follow if a complaint is received.

Communication is essential between Extension staff in counties involved when the complaint crosses county lines. Staff must work together using these guidelines to resolve these issues.


Policy  Policy: not negotiable    Guidelines  Guidelines: strongly recommended    Procedure  Procedure: recommended implementation steps