Prep sports: Keeping it clean

Michael Hogue / MCT

High school sports are an institution in South Florida, providing an overwhelmingly positive imprint on the thousands of us who played.

I was fortunate enough to play football for Mike Uspensky at Hialeah Miami Lakes in the mid-1980s. Coach U, as we affectionately called him, taught his players discipline and ethics — lessons that many of us still draw from so many years later.

Not every coach is as ethical as Coach Uspensky was. There is, and has been for a long time, a dark cloud hovering above Miami-Dade high school athletics — one that few like to mention and one that most try to wish away — the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

A couple of weeks ago, in light of the ongoing PED investigation being conducted by Major League Baseball, which allegedly revealed that Biogenesis, a Coral Gables clinic, was not only dispensing illegal drugs to high profile professionals but also to high school athletes, Miami-Dade County School Board member Raquel Regalado put forth a proposal that asks the administration to “provide the board the feasibility of, and information regarding the cost of, implementing a policy authorizing the random drug testing of M-DCPS students who participate in extracurricular activities at all M-DCPS high schools.”

The School Board unanimously approved Regalado’s bold initiative.

“After reading about the Biogenesis investigation ,which possibly involves Miami-Dade high school students I thought that we needed to start recognizing and doing something about this issue. It’s one thing for adult athletes to voluntarily take these illegal substances, but it’s an entirely different situation when it’s a minor consuming them,” Regalado told me this week. She also explained that she was working on getting private funding for this project to spare the already-stretched budget.

Larry Blustein, recognized by many as South Florida’s guru of prep sports, who has incisively covered high school athletics for more than 40 years, revealed, “This problem has been growing in South Florida sports over time. Suddenly football players were jumping from 220 pounds to 260 almost overnight.

“It’s like the student who has a 2.2 grade point average and scores a whopping 1800 on his SAT exam. You know something’s up.”

Jose “Chambi” Campos, a sports talk radio host who has also keenly followed the local high school sports scene for many years has “noticed the increase in strength and size of Miami-Dade County athletes, particularly in baseball.” Campos asked me this somewhat rhetorical question: “Do you think that it’s coincidence that Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez — all prominent names in the baseball drug scandal — are all from down here?”

When I asked Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, he explained that it was his understanding that the names revealed in the Biogenesis report were “primarily private school kids.” Therefore, he’s “not certain that this is a major problem for Miami-Dade County public schools.” However, he did say he’s in favor of “moving forward with the feasibility study and at the same time continuing to educate students as to the ill effects of PEDs.”

To which Regalado responded, “With all due respect to the Superintendent, I haven’t spoken to a parent yet that feels that Red Ribbon Week and a few messages on saying ‘No’ to drugs are enough.”

Carvalho, who has championed many innovative programs under his watch seems tepid and overly cautious on this issue. Perhaps he doesn’t grasp the potential severity of this problem in his schools.

Miami-Dade Public Schools should move forward with random drug testing for students taking part in all extra-curricular activities. Let’s keep prep sports and activities in Miami-Dade ethical and clean so as to provide students and athletes a safe, competitive environment that will afford them lessons that will last a lifetime.

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