The State Fair in Columbia is bigger.

But the Coastal Carolina Fair in Ladson is fairer.

On Oct. 15, halfway into a 12-day run, State Fair officials abruptly announced that nobody under 18 would be admitted after 7 p.m. without a parent 21 or older.

On Tuesday, Coastal Carolina Fair spokesman Joe Bolchoz told me the Exchange Club folks who run it have “no intentions” of following that restrictive lead.

So when our fair begins its 11-day run at 3 o’clock this afternoon, high-schoolers still can try to impress their sweeties — or merely their pals — by winning stuffed animals and other prizes in presumably unrigged games of skill.

OK, so real risks triggered the crackdown on those 17 and younger at the State Fair, which is in a rough neighborhood by Williams-Brice Stadium.

The State newspaper reported: “ ‘We don’t want to have anything happen like another Five Points at the fair,’ said State Fair manager Gary Goodman, referencing Sunday [Oct. 13] morning’s shooting of a USC freshman that left her paralyzed. A man who fired at another person during an alleged argument has been charged in that incident.”

And: “In 2007, the fair installed metal detectors at the two public entrances, three years after a 14-year-old was shot just outside the fair’s Rosewood Drive entrance. About the same time, on the advice of local law enforcement, the fair began more closely monitoring clothing and colors, especially among youth, that might signal possible gang affiliation.”

Gee, what a thrill ride.

The way we were

But what self-respecting high school student wants to bring Mom or Dad along on a fair date? And how many more good times for the many must be spoiled by the bad deeds of the few?

Long ago in my blissful youth, we could legally drink in bars at 18 — and around here, easily evade that age limit before turning 18.

You could also down a brew or two at the Coastal Carolina Fair, which no longer serves it.

Such venues generally gave us much more to focus on than getting plastered. Thus, the rise in the drinking age to 21 has inevitably been accompanied by a rise in binge drinking by kids who seek inebriating refuge in dorm rooms, private residences and even the woods.

Meanwhile, an 18-year-old can join the U.S. military but not legally have a beer.

Now take this swig from the Coastal Carolina Fair website:

“From our first fair in 1957 through today, our goals have remained the same: 1. Provide the best available family-oriented entertainment for the Lowcountry. All activities and events are chosen to provide acceptable entertainment for all ages. 2. Raise money for charities, education, and community needs. The 2012 Fair allowed us to offer more than $800,000 in support to the worthy organizations and students in the Lowcountry in 2013! 3. Allow our Corporate Sponsors to present their message to more than 230,000 attendees each year.”

Worthy aims indeed.

A revealing experience

Yet if the fair’s No. 1 goal since 1957 has been to “provide family-oriented entertainment,” how did I gain entry to two competing 1967 midway strip shows as a 14-year-old rascal who looked 12?

Bolchoz, a 1964 Bishop England grad, confirmed my recollection of those exotic-dancer attractions Tuesday.

We also traded stories about sneaking into the fair without paying.

And yes, my St. Andrews buddies and I annually attended the Coastal Carolina Fair at night without anybody’s parents.

The natural wonders we saw, however, weren’t confined to the lovely Miss Chili Pepper and her Monte Carlo Revue co-stars.

A short stroll from their tempting tent was an array of freakish life forms, including the Frog Boy, the Ape Woman and the Skeleton Man. We also saw fire eaters, sword swallowers, headless bodies and bodyless heads.

Heightened sensitivities about sideshows of the physically deformed have changed fair fare over the decades.

But our Coastal Carolina version still packs plenty of fun with its timelessly enticing aroma of sawdust, cotton candy and assorted fried treats — and the unhinged sound of roller-coastering screams.

So keep supporting the Exchange Club’s good causes by having a good fair time.

Just stop cramping kids’ styles with overwrought rules.

And wherever they are tonight, let them have a Happy Halloween.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is