School Lacks Funds to Enforce New PED Policy

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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Palm Beach Post (Florida)
August 26, 2013 Monday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
655 words
Policy on PEDs all talk for now;
Lacking funds for tests, schools rely on drug education, awareness.
By Jeff Greer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

An aggressive policy designed to prevent student-athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs exists in name only for Palm Beach County public schools.

The problem is that the school district has no money to fund drug tests, which can cost $100 or more apiece. Policy 5.615, titled "Drug and Alcohol Testing of Student Athletes" on the Palm Beach County School District's website, details a plan that includes education and awareness programs and random monthly drug tests of five different athletes at each of the county's 23 public high school.

But the policy, adopted in early 2009, isn't exactly what it looks like. The school board wrote the policy to comply with guidelines outlined in a three-year, $198,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that expired at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

Coaches and administrators still follow the education and awareness segments of the program. They are expected to discuss steroid use -- and other health topics -- with their student-athletes. It's not as powerful as the testing, but it's better than nothing, several coaches and athletic directors say.

"Everybody wants an edge," said Seminole Ridge football coach Scott Barnwell. "Kids are always trying to do something, like protein shakes or supplements or other stuff, but if you talk about it with your kids and tell them how bad it is for their body and their heart, the kids will listen."

The school district's drug testing involved six high schools that volunteered to participate and started with softball and baseball in spring 2009. The random drug tests stopped when the grant ended.

Earlier this month, the Florida High School Athletic Association announced that it would review its policies to determine if more can be done to prevent the use of illegal PEDs. That decision came after the Miami Herald reported that several current and former Miami-area high school baseball players used steroids in the past.

The student-athletes' names surfaced as part of the Biogenesis scandal involving Major League Baseball players Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun and other professional athletes.

When the FHSAA reports its findings and recommendations, the School District would prefer to edit its current policy instead of writing a new one, said Yetta Greene, instructional specialist for athletics for the school district.

"It takes a lot of time for policy writing and rewriting and debating and all that," Greene said. "It's more efficient to adjust our current language than go through that entire process again."

There is some hope for testing in the future. Funding remains the largest obstacle. Each drug test, according to FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing, costs at least $100, if not more.

The FHSAA cannot afford to fund testing, and the school district, facing regular budget cuts, doesn't have the money, either. The state legislature, Dearing said, is also unlikely to help.

Instead, Dearing hoped local businesses might foot the bill. In 2012, the Cleveland Clinic agreed to underwrite and launch baseline testing for Palm Beach County students in an effort to better treat concussions.

"Without any funding, our hands are kind of tied except the monitoring of our athletes and having conversations with them as to what we expect of them," said Park Vista athletic director Pam Romero.

Waiting is all anyone can do until the FHSAA reveals its findings. The report is expected to create a domino effect across the state, with each school district aligning its policy with the FHSAA.

There is no deadline to complete the internal review of the FHSAA's drug policy, though in an official statement and conference call with reporters Dearing made it clear the FHSAA wants something soon.

"It takes attention, like (efforts to prevent and better treat) concussions or anything else," Greene said. "Usually someone can find the funding we need. Where we go from there, who knows?"

jgreer@pbpost.com Twitter: @jeffgreer

August 26, 2013

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