SV Joins National Debate on Drug Test for Athletes

SV Joins National Debate on Drug Test for Athletes
Posted by FoM on January 30, 2000 at 11:54:02 PT
By George Basler, Staff Writer 
Source: Binghamton Press
At Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School in Illinois, drug testing of student athletes has become "a way of life," says athletic director Ken Shultz.The school began its program of testing 20 students at random every other week in 1990 because of suspected drug use by football players. Since then, only a very few athletes have tested positively, and the program has had community support, he said. He calls the program "effective."
Don't tell that to Jerry Diehl, an assistant director with the National Federation of State High School Associations. He doesn't think much of the idea. "The general feeling is that we are not an advocate of drug testing. ... Many school districts are saying they'd rather spend money on education than trying to catch people," he said.The concept of testing student athletes for drugs remains controversial even though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in 1995. Officials in the Susquehanna Valley Central School District are aware of that controversy as they recommend a new policy to test the urine of student athletes for drugs including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and marijuana.If the school board approves the recommendation, which came from a special committee that included residents, SV will become the first district in the region, and one of the few in the state, to test for drugs. A public meeting on the proposed policy is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the high school auditorium.Susquehanna Valley isn't alone in looking at the policy, but it's not in the majority, either.When the Supreme Court upheld drug testing of student athletes five years ago, advocates on both sides of the issue predicted schools across the country would rush to begin programs. But that didn't happen. Whether because of cost, lack of community support or lack of interest, schools have not rushed to embrace the idea.Diehl estimated only about 1,000 of the nation's 25,000 public high schools test athletes for drugs, and some schools that started testing have stopped. "You see it here and there, but it isn't the sort of thing most school districts are moving toward," agreed Edwin Darden, a staff attorney with the National School Boards Association.According to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the decision to test is strictly a local one. Only three New York schools are now testing, SV officials said.Concerns about a district's image and the reactions from students and the public may cause some school systems to shy from the issue, said Timothy O'Hearn, health and wellness coordinator for Susquehanna Valley. So he thinks SV deserves credit for looking openly at a policy. "It took a lot of guts for the district to do this," he said.Pros and Cons: For O'Hearn and other proponents of drug testing, the issue is clear. They believe testing is a step to prevent teen-agers from using drugs, and to get help to those already using.Testing can also be a way for students to resist peer pressure, said Shultz, who has been athletic director at Homewood-Flossmoor for 20 years. If a policy is in place, athletes can turn down drugs without fear of peer scorn by saying they don't want the risk of being caught and facing the consequences. "Any time you can give kids a good excuse for not doing something they don't want to do, that's good," Shultz said.Critics, on the other hand, question the effectiveness of urinalysis testing programs and the fairness of singling out student athletes for tests.No hard data exist to show these programs reduce drug use, said Graham Boyd, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Drug Policy Litigation Project. In fact, he believes they can do more harm than good by discouraging some students from playing sports when they could benefit from the activity.Also, tests cannot catch the use of alcohol, which is the top drug of choice for teen-agers, Boyd said. That's because alcohol is only in the system for four to eight hours. Students would have to have a couple of stiff drinks on the way to school that day in order to test positive."Testing just encourages kids to shift to alcohol," Boyd said.Moreover, because of the cost, most school districts don't test for steroids, even though these are a serious threat to the health of athletes, said Charles Yesalis, a professor at Penn State University who has studied steroids for 20 years.Tests for steroids run about $125 per student, compared to about $20 for normal drug tests, and school systems can't afford that, he said. Still, Yesalis said: "It seems illogical to me" to test for recreational drugs, but not test for steroids, when national data show 175,000 teen-age girls and 375,000 teen-age boys have used anabolic steroids.Susquehanna Valley officials acknowledged the district does not plan to test for steroids because of the cost. As part of their first aid training, however, coaches receive advice on how to recognize steroid use, O'Hearn said. Worked Well: While they recognize the shortcomings of tests, officials in three school systems that have started testing - one in Illinois, one in Kentucky and one in Louisiana - said last week they believe their programs keep some students away from drug use.The Oldham County Board of Education in Kentucky approved drug tests for students athletes in 1998 after a survey revealed drug and alcohol abuse among some athletes. In the first year, more than 1,100 students were tested, but only four tested positively, said Superintendent Blake Haselton.And, contrary to the concerns that the number of students participating in athletics would drop because of drug testing, the school system had a 10-percent increase in students playing sports, he said."I think it keeps students a little more honest," said Mary Curole, assistant principal at South Lafourche High School in Louisiana, which began testing five years ago. The school was instrumental in getting the Louisiana High School Athletics Association to adopt a statewide policy last year to mandate drug testing for every school.At Homewood-Flossmoor, implementing the policy has been time consuming, and it comes at a cost of $25,000 a year, which the district pays out of gate receipts from its sports events, Shultz said. But he thinks the community has accepted it, and he's surprised more schools don't do it."Kids are still going to party, but for athletes who want to resist peer pressure, this is a great argument for them to do so," Shultz said.Susquehanna Valley officials emphasized a 14-member committee, including five residents as well as school officials, studied the issue for two years before recommending the policy.So far, community reaction has been positive, O'Hearn said, adding his office has been getting telephone calls from athletic directors across the state. If the SV board adopts a policy, "I'm sure we'll be the first of many," he said.However, athletic directors in four other Broome County districts - Vestal, Union-Endicott, Chenango Valley and Binghamton - shied from jumping on the drug testing bandwagon last week. Their districts are not discussing policies, they said. "It's not a direction we're talking about," said John Allen, athletic director at Chenango Valley.Binghamton Athletic Director Steven Deinhardt said he is anxious to see how SV's policy works, if the board approves it. As of now, however, this is not on Binghamton's table, he said.If the school board approves Susquehanna Valley's policy, all athletes would be tested before the season. The district would then test four athletes at random every week, or eight at random every other week. The projected cost is $8,000 to $10,000 a year, with Lourdes Hospital the vendor. A student who tests positively could still play, but would have to undergo substance abuse evaluation and a counseling program.SV wants its program to help students, not be punitive, said Superintendent John Paske. A check of 13 student athletes on the day the proposed policy was announced found that all supported the policy. As one athlete, Nick Tillman, 17, put it: Athletes who are routinely under the influence of drugs and alcohol hurt a team. "I don't think it's a big deal with athletes because they already have to sign a consent form to be drug- and alcohol-free," Paske said. Published: January 30, 2000All content 2000 The Binghamton Press Co.Related Article:Another Small District Tests for Drugs - 1/30/2000 News Drug Testing Articles:
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