You can hardly read or hear a news report without some mention of cheating.

Whether it's sports, the entertainment world or the nation's capital, the ethical breakdowns that lead people to deliberately break the rules or their vows and promises have become more prevalent than ever before.

When it comes to any kind of dishonesty or fraud, we tend to think more of adults as the violators. Yet even at county fairs, where many youngsters compete, cheating is a concern.

Fair officials nationwide know that in the past decade, more scandals have marred 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) shows due to illegal use of steroids and other drugs, physical alteration of animals, false ownership and other violations.

Problems have cropped up in recent years because there's often much more at stake than a blue ribbon. An exhibitor can land big bucks by selling a champion animal often much more than they would fetch on the open market.

As a result, rules for all competitors are strict. Beyond obvious guidelines for livestock, fair participants also must understand copyright restrictions and other laws.

For example, someone looking to enter a photography contest may see a great photo opportunity in an old barn in the country, but should seek permission from the property owner before going on their land.

There's much to learn, regardless of the area of competition.

Michelle Thomsen, a 4-H youth coordinator in Iowa, said older 4-H members often are quick to help their younger counterparts wade through the details.

When it comes to following the rules, they all learn that their actions reflect on many people family, fellow 4-H members and the county they represent. And that, "If I look bad or I try to cheat, it's not going to look pretty," Thomsen said.

It's also important for parents to provide meaningful oversight of fair projects, rather than looking the other way and allowing their children to cheat the system. But as we know all too well, some parents would rather see their youngster collect an award at any cost, even if it means taking shortcuts or breaking the rules.

Credit the 4-H, FFA and Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) for doing their best to make sure young participants understand the ethics of competition. As the Finney County Fair gets under way, young exhibitors showing everything from cattle to clothing will have received another reminder by way of the Finney County Fair Ethics Guidelines.

The guidelines focus on caring, trustworthiness, respect, fairness, responsibility and citizenship.

Besides learning the importance of playing by the rules, youngsters also are reminded to treat others as they would like to be treated.

They are taught to handle animals in a humane way by keeping them comfortable.

They learn to help others in need. And, to always win or lose with grace and dignity.

County fair competitions continue to deliver a valuable education for youngsters from the farm and city. As the Finney County Fair Ethics Guidelines point out, the fair is a time to place an emphasis on learning over winning.

Unfortunately, too many adults set a poor example in placing their own personal gain above everything else.

They could learn a lot from the healthy competition that takes place year after year at the fair.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@ gctelegram.com.