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Alleged Cheating at Ohio Fair Focuses Woes of 4-H Officials

September 18, 1989

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The discovery of a steer that may be a bum has 4-H officials pondering how to reclaim their wholesome contests from the lure of the cash cow.

Big money has been changing hands in recent years at state fairs around the country, with major corporations sometimes participating in the auctions for prize animals. Large crowds and television crews spur the bidding.

And with the big money comes temptation, officials say.

Authorities last month impounded Hank, a 1,245-pound steer sold for $28,000 at the Ohio State Fair, when it was disclosed that it may be the same animal that won second place at a county fair in Illinois in July - under a different name.

Hank’s owners deny wrongdoing, and in any case officials say open cheating may be unusual.

They are more concerned by the impact of the profit motive on 4-H, which after all was intended to reach out to the head, heart, hands and health of children - not their bank accounts - and to teach the way of citizen-farmers.

Increasingly, youngsters purchase the animals they exhibit, rather than raising them from birth, said Jack Foust, general manager of the Ohio State Fair.

″We have always been concerned that we’re not doing enough to develop the whole boy and girl,″ said Milton Boyce, an administrator responsible for 4-H at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

″Too much emphasis is put on the money, and sometimes it teaches the kids little more than how to get their names in the paper,″ he said.

″The goal here is to get the thing back in focus.″

The USDA and 4-H this year began an educational project in 12 states to teach young people the importance of honesty. The project began in Ohio as authorities investigated the identity of Hank, the fair’s grand champion Angus-cross steer.

Hank’s credentials came into question when fair officials received a tip from an Illinois extension agent that Hank might be Carl, a reserve champion at the Iroquois County Fair.

Hank’s exhibitor, 17-year-old Susan Shealy of Tiro, and her parents, have denied any wrongdoing, as has the family of 12-year-old Jeremy Simmons, who exhibited Carl.

Simmons’ stepfather, Donald Kopsell, said he sold Hank to the Shealys last October and that Carl was destroyed after he ate some tainted corn.

Fair officials have said that some similarities between the two animals have been found. Both are black and both have a similar belly marking.

At issue is whether the ownership of the animal was misrepresented. Under rules of both fairs, an exhibitor must have owned the animal since Jan. 1 of the year in which it is shown.

If Hank is an impostor, Ms. Shealy could lose her $28,000 prize and first- place ribbon. A decision by the Ohio Expositions Commission, which oversees the state fair, could be announced as early as Thursday.

In Ohio, the grand champion steer was purchased by Burger King for a record $69,500 in 1986. Tyson Foods paid $42,000 for the grand champion in 1987, and Great Southern Midway paid $38,500 in 1988.

Auctions for winning animals also take place in many other states.

″When these animals get to bring these high prices and all the TV cameras are on, I guess that’s where human faults come in, figuring a way to bring a high price,″ said Foust, who thinks the earnings on the top steers should be divided among participants in the contests.

The other states involved in the 4-H honesty program are Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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