The county fair is approaching. The fair might conjure images of grandstand shows and carnival rides, livestock barns and sinfully delicious fair foods. There will be lots to see and do at the Ellis County Fair on July 16 to 23 in Hays.

But to really make the most of the Ellis County Fair, you need to participate, not just attend. Exhibiting an entry gives you personal involvement in the fair. You’re no longer a bystander, but a participant — a competitor.

When you enter items at the fair, you receive helpful comments and suggestions from qualified judges. You stimulate light-hearted competition with your friends and neighbors. You help to fill the building so fair-goers have plenty to see. And no matter your age, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of winning a ribbon on your fair exhibit.

It’s easy to participate in the Ellis County Fair by entering an exhibit. And thanks to a brand-new online entry system, the process is now even easier. But to participate this year, online entries are required in advance, no later than Tuesday. So now is the time to plan your fair exhibits and get them entered online to make the most of the Ellis County Fair experience.

The process begins at the Ellis County Fair website, www.elliscountyfair.com. Under the “4-H and Open Class” link, you’ll find the fair book listing of exhibit divisions and classes. Spend some time browsing the entry categories. You might be surprised at the variety of items which can be entered at the fair. We hope you’ll be inspired, too, to choose several items to bring to the fair. Jot down the division and class numbers you want to enter.

The next step is to select the link called “Online Fair Entry System” in the left box, which takes you to the new online advance entry system. 4-H members can sign in using their 4-HOnline log-in and password. Non-4-Her’s — both non-4-H youth and adults — will need to create an account in order to use the system. You will be asked to enter your email address and create a password to begin your account. Remember these for future reference.

One handy feature is you can create one account for your whole family or household. Then each person can be added as an exhibitor to the family account, rather than creating a separate account for each family member. That means only one sign-in email and password to remember.

The online entry system is fairly self-explanatory — just choose the division you want to enter, find the specific class in that division that fits your entry, and include a brief description of your item to help fair staff identify and locate your exhibit as needed.

The final step in the process might create some confusion and that is the section called “Payment.” This step is built into the online system, but since there is no charge to enter anything at the Ellis County Fair, just click through the payment section until you reach the screen that asks you to “submit” your entry registration. Don’t panic about the potential for payment (the balance will remain $0.00, and you are never asked to give any financial information), ignore the section about questions and keep going; your entry is not complete until you hit “submit.”

You will receive two email messages from “FairEntry” to the email address on your account. The first arrives immediately and says “thanks for registering” and later you will receive a message that your entry has been approved or that there is an issue with your entry. (The problem might be something as simple as an adult trying to enter a class for youth only, or a 4-H’er trying to enter a project in which they are not enrolled. Follow the instructions to edit your entry.)

The fair manager will approve your entries and print the entry tags which will be waiting for you at the fair — no need to fill any out this year. If you missed entering something the first time, you can add more after the fair manager approves the first group of entries.

On entry day at the fair — July 18 for most exhibits — you will bring your projects to the fair and enter through the Deutschfest Hall center doors. You will be handed your printed entry tags to attach to your exhibits and officially checked-in. You will then drop off your entries at the appropriate area in the building, and that’s it. Entering exhibits in advance speeds up the check-in process at the fairgrounds.

Susan Schlichting, Ellis County 4-H agent, prepared a video of the new online advance entry system. Watch it for step-by-step guidance and to help answer any questions you might have. It is posted on our website at www.ellis.ksu.edu under 4-H Youth Development/4-H Events. It has been shared on Facebook at “K-State Research and Extension-Ellis County” and also at “Ellis County Fair.” A direct link to the video is tinyurl.com/jtu3zsk.

If you are not a computer user, or need help with the online entry system, contact us at the Ellis County Extension Office, 601 Main in Hays, (785) 628-9430. We’ll be happy to assist you to ensure your items are successfully pre-entered for the Ellis County Fair.

Remember, the deadline is Tuesday to get your projects entered for the Ellis County Fair, so start today.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.