There's good sportsmanship and bad sportsmanship in every competitive arena. And, with rare exception, throwing a punch at an opponent falls into the latter category -- especially if the target of your alleged ire is a dark-eyed, cute-tailed creature that bleats.

Boyds goat farmer Wayne Cullen will not appear next week at the 123rd Maryland State Fair because the folks in charge contend that he angrily and quite publicly took aim at another entry during the dairy goat show last year. For such an egregious violation of "ring ethics," they've barred him from exhibiting and even from setting foot on the fairgrounds in Timonium. Indefinitely, it seems.

But Cullen, who denies organizers' version, is fighting back. Not pugilistically, of course. Through the courts.

It's not just his good name as a breeder that's at stake, he and attorney Roger Hayden assert. It's whether the private group that runs the state-subsidized event can unilaterally exclude a member of the public from the fair.

"We're astounded," Hayden said yesterday.

The attorney doesn't suggest his client's being made a scapegoat. He does insinuate that Cullen's successes in the ring might have been too threatening to others. Keeping him away could "further some goals" of other breeders, Hayden said.

Hayden tried to make a federal case out of it all, but U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled Aug. 13 that because the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society Inc. is not a state entity, the federal courts could not get involved. Cullen might have a claim in state court, Motz suggested.

The farmer intends to head there next. The merits of his claim have yet to be heard, including his version of events that the goat behind his in line that day was trying to bite his animal. Yes, to get his goat. And that Tillie, one of the Toggenburgs he raises on his Cherry Glen Farm in upper Montgomery County, was becoming increasingly agitated, and that he couldn't get the attention of the judge looking over the class.

And that, most important, he feared the aggressor was infected with the species' version of HIV, thus endangering Tillie in a very serious way.

"So I took my hand," he recounted, "and just pushed [the other goat] back."

Both sides say they have witnesses. The organizers' attorney, William Marlow Jr., said yesterday that theirs described how Cullen took his fist to the other ruminant's face -- in full view of an audience that included children. "It appeared he was frustrated at not having won the class," Marlow said.

For months after the fair ended, Cullen said, he heard nothing. Suddenly, in March, he received a letter informing him that the 2004 show would go on without him "due to the problems you caused last year."

When he protested that he'd been afforded no due process, no hearing, he got word that he no longer was welcome at the fair as a spectator, either.

Even his goats weren't welcome, until recently, when organizers agreed that Cullen's partner could exhibit them in competition.

And Cullen should be miles away, back home in Boyds, when she does.