BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– The green chips, red barn and white fence are all iconic pieces that play a role in keeping the SDSU Little International tradition alive. Little “I” is the largest student-run livestock exposition in the country and is celebrating it’s 98th year, with this year’s theme being ‘The Show Must Go On’.

Little “I” student leadership has been planning the 2021 event since last spring, but did not receive approval from the university to host it until Jan. 27, said Jacob Rausch, Manager of the 98th Little “I”.

After having last year’s event cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students are excited to be back in the Little “I” show ring.

“We are very excited to now turn the corner with our approval and start making more plans for the event,” Rausch said.

The Little “I” livestock drawing was held on Wednesday night and now they have over 150 exhibitors who will start working with their livestock in preparation for the event, Rausch said. These exhibitors will participate in both the showmanship and fitting events.

However, this year’s event will look a little different, Dr. John Killefer, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences said.

“Because of the pandemic, we really have to be very thoughtful about the safety of not only our students who are involved, but also an spectators who might be engaged in this event,” Killefer said.

Little “I” student leadership had to develop a plan and present it to SDSU’s COVID response team to gain approval to have the event, Killefer said.

Students will have to follow CDC guidelines by wear masks, having smaller numbers of people together at a given time and being socially distanced, Killefer said. The size of the event has also been decreased this year by limiting the spectators who can be in attendance.

However, the event will be livestreamed so that those who cannot be in the arena can still be a part of the event.

The FFA competitions that are associated with Little “I” and are typically on the SDSU campus have been moved to an online platform.

“We normally would have up to about 2,000 high school students who would attend this event and they come from all over the region,” Killefer said. “We just can’t have folks from all these different places coming here and being able to do that safely.”

Coming back to the arena stronger than ever

Rausch was the assistant manager for the 2020 Little “I”. However, since the event was cancelled, he wasn’t able to gain the full assistant manager experience and training before being promoted to this year’s manager.

Rausch does feel prepared for the position though, thanks to guidance from last year’s manager Collin VanderWal.

“Serving under him as the assistant manager last year, I got to witness all the hours and the work and the behind the scenes that he did to prepare for the event,” Rausch said. “To be two weeks away and have it cancelled was definitely a let down for him, but I know Collin has help me out a ton and the rest of the staff get ready for this year.”

Rausch said that with VanderWal’s support over the past months, as well as having a great executive team, he is confident that they will have a successful Little “I”.

This year there are 133 Little “I” student staff members, each playing their own separate roll to make Little “I” happen, Rausch said.

Grady Gullickson, this year’s Assistant Manager, said his favorite part about Little “I” is the people involved.

“We have some of the best leaders on campus and it’s just a blessing to be able to work with them and see what we can accomplish,” Gullickson said. “It takes a heck of a crew to put this on and the people that Jacob and I get to work with are incredible. We learn so much from them and I hope they learn just as much from us.”

Gullickson said it is amazing to see the personal growth that happens in Little “I” members from their freshman to senior years with the organization.

Generations coming together to celebrate agriculture

Little “I” is one of the biggest campus events at SDSU, especially for the agricultural students. It is not only important for current students, but it also brings a lot of potential students to campus as well as provides alumni with a reason to come back, Rausch said. The event also draws in family members and distinguished guests to the arena.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to come as a high schooler, but seeing the impact that Little International does have on the high schoolers that do come here and participate… it’s just great to see and give them the exposure of coming to SDSU,” said Gullickson.

Gullickson said it is also great to see the impact that Little “I” has on the college students.

“They get to show livestock that they may have never had the opportunity to do before, or participate in events that most kids wouldn’t have the chance to while growing up and I think that’s what makes Little “I” special,” Gullickson said.

Keeping the tradition alive

For Rausch, becoming Little “I” manager meant following in his father Shannon’s footsteps. Shannon was the Little “I” manager in 1987.

“Growing up and listening to my dad tell stories about back when he was manager during his days at SDSU, it has always intrigued me and so as soon as I got to SDSU I was excited to join and get more involved,” Rausch said. “So now to follow in his footsteps and become a leader and a servant of the Little “I” organization has been very fulfilling for me… long live Little “I”.”

Gullickson also is honored to be carrying on his family traditions by being involved in Little “I”.

“For me it goes back to my family doing it,” said Gullickson. “Both my parents and a lot of my family members participated and were on staff when they were at the university.”

Preparing for the centennial celebration

With the 100th Little “I” anniversary being just two years away, Little “I” staff have already begun preparing for the festivities.

Rausch says that while they were waiting for approval on this year’s event, they focused some of their attention and energy on planning and fundraising for the 100th year celebration.

“It’s hard to say for sure right now what that is going to look like,” Rausch said, “We are defiantly putting as many things into place as we can to set that celebration up for success.”

They hoping to have some extra funds on hand to truly celebrate that event like it needs to be celebrated, Rausch said. They hope to bring back as many past managers as possible, as well as alumni and family members.

Rausch said they are unsure if they will need to use a larger facility, such as the Swiftel Center for the event, but they are going to make it as big of a celebration as they possibly can.

Details on this year’s event

This 98th Little “I” will be held on March 26 and 27 in the Animal Science Arena Complex at SDSU. Admission will be by ticket only. Follow Little “I” on Facebook for more information about this year’s event and the receive updates about the livestream.