Strength In Numbers

Florida and Texas join New Jersey in mandating the testing of high school student-athletes for steroid use.

The fight against high school steroid use gained more muscle this summer, as two additional states announced they will mandate testing. Following the lead of New Jersey, which last year began randomly testing state tournament participants for anabolic steroids, Florida and Texas lawmakers in June made funding available for similar programs. And officials at the Illinois High School Association plan to move ahead with a testing initiative of their own - with or without legislative assistance.

Florida's new law is a one-year pilot program calling for the random testing of up to 1 percent of the state's 59,000 high school baseball players, football players and weightlifters. The Florida High School Athletic Association reports that 94 percent of participants in those activities during the 2005-06 school year were male, which some observers note begs a discussion of the need to also test girls who play, say, softball and flag football. "Frankly, if I was convinced that this was a bill that was important, I would make sure that it was applied gender blind," Perry Zirkel, a leading expert on education law at Lehigh University, told the St. Petersburg Times.

Texas legislators rendered the gender issue null and void by making all student-athletes eligible for random testing at any time - and plan to test as many as 25,000 of them per year, regardless of sex, sport or season. That's only a little more than 3 percent of the state's nation-high 742,000 student-athletes, but it nevertheless gives Texas the country's most expansive and aggressive steroid testing program. "We want to make sure that everybody knows they can be tested," says Charles Breithaupt, director of athletics for the Texas University Interscholastic League, which will oversee testing four times a year at about 400 schools. "And just because we come once doesn't mean we won't come back again. We want the kids to know once and for all that steroids are not healthy, they're illegal and they won't be tolerated."

Each of the three states currently mandating testing offers varying degrees of penalties and financial support. First-time violators receive a one-year suspension from sports in New Jersey, a 90-day suspension in Florida, and a 30-day suspension in Texas (although three offenses in the Lone Star State will result in a ban for a player's remaining high school career).

One test costs approximately $100, and the $100,000 attached to Florida's bill, though the same amount New Jersey initially set aside for its testing, "may not be sufficient to fund the program to its fullest extent," according to FHSAA commissioner John Stewart. By contrast, the Texas Legislature will provide $6 million over two years, after which the testing program likely will be reevaluated, Breithaupt says, with the potential for receiving additional state funding or reducing the number of tests.

Meanwhile, the IHSA's sports medicine committee is developing a testing proposal that will be presented to member schools this fall for reaction. No funding mechanism has been identified, according to Kurt Gibson, an IHSA assistant executive director, although possible sources include revenue from increased game-ticket prices, federal grants and the Illinois General Assembly.

Steroids remains an issue that many school administrators say should be discussed only at the local level, with education outweighing testing. But statewide testing appears to be working. According to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, no positive results were found among the 150 samples taken last fall (results from the winter and spring sports seasons have yet to be released). "We can catch no one, and the program is still a success," NJSIAA assistant director Bob Baly told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year. "The test is a deterrent for steroid use."

National statistics compiled by the ongoing Monitoring the Future study, a University of Michigan-based project funded by a series of research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, show that less than 2 percent of students in grades 8, 10 and 12 used anabolic steroids in 2006. Breithaupt says the combination of testing and education - the UIL recently invested $100,000 to create a video for all of its member schools about the importance of avoiding steroids - will continue to keep those statistics low.

"This issue will never go away until there is testing," he says. "We had all these surveys that kids were filling out, but we didn't really know the truth; it was all anecdotal. This way, we come up with real data. We suspect that there will be positive tests of less than 1 percent. In that case, those who have said all along that we need to be testing will claim victory - and rightfully so - because it serves as a deterrent. And if it's higher than 1 percent, there will be those who say, 'See, we told you this was a problem.' "

Meanwhile, the IHSA's sports medicine committee is developing a testing proposal that will be presented to member schools this fall for reaction. No funding mechanism has been identified, according to Kurt Gibson, an IHSA assistant executive director, although possible sources include revenue from increased game-ticket prices, federal grants and the Illinois General Assembly.

Steroids remains an issue that many school administrators say should be discussed only at the local level, with education outweighing testing. But statewide testing appears to be working. According to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, no positive results were found among the 150 samples taken last fall (results from the winter and spring sports seasons have yet to be released). "We can catch no one, and the program is still a success," NJSIAA assistant director Bob Baly told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year. "The test is a deterrent for steroid use."

National statistics compiled by the ongoing Monitoring the Future study, a University of Michigan-based project funded by a series of research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, show that less than 2 percent of students in grades 8, 10 and 12 used anabolic steroids in 2006. Breithaupt says the combination of testing and education - the UIL recently invested $100,000 to create a video for all of its member schools about the importance of avoiding steroids - will continue to keep those statistics low.

"This issue will never go away until there is testing," he says. "We had all these surveys that kids were filling out, but we didn't really know the truth; it was all anecdotal. This way, we come up with real data. We suspect that there will be positive tests of less than 1 percent. In that case, those who have said all along that we need to be testing will claim victory - and rightfully so - because it serves as a deterrent. And if it's higher than 1 percent, there will be those who say, 'See, we told you this was a problem.' "

Meanwhile, the IHSA's sports medicine committee is developing a testing proposal that will be presented to member schools this fall for reaction. No funding mechanism has been identified, according to Kurt Gibson, an IHSA assistant executive director, although possible sources include revenue from increased game-ticket prices, federal grants and the Illinois General Assembly.

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