Miami-Dade High Schools

Steroid tests urged for Florida high school athletes

Spurred by reports in the past week that a now-defunct anti-aging clinic supplied performance-enhancing drugs to high school athletes as well as pro ballplayers, the Florida High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday it will push to create a tougher policy against steroids to be enforced by individual school districts.

“We believe we must draw a line in the sand against performance-enhancing drugs,” FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing said on a conference call with the news media. “It’s the elephant in the room that all of us have known has existed for some time, but we may not have been as vigilant as we should have been.

“School districts simply cannot tolerate coaches who encourage or look the other way when they know student-athletes are using performance-enhancing drugs. Therefore these coaches should not be allowed by their school district policies to influence and coach these students in the future. It’s more about safeguarding fair play and saving students’ lives.”

The association’s 16-member medical advisory committee will be tasked with devising the policy.

The Miami Herald has seen a partial list of high school clients of Biogenesis, the clinic that supplied PEDs o professional ballplayers, including Alex Rodriguez. On the list, from October 2011, are two current high school seniors and five athletes who are now in college but who attended Miami-Dade or Broward schools.

Although the Legislature passed a steroid testing pilot program in 2007-2008 (it produced one positive test out of 600 random exams across five sports and 53 schools), the FHSAA itself doesn’t have the authority to test for performance-enhancing drugs. But Dearing said individual schools and districts can and should implement testing as a deterrent and believes there are ways financially to figure it out.

The FHSAA had 283,000 student-athletes participate in high school sports last year. At $150 per test, comprehensive steroid testing statewide would cost $42 million, Dearing said.

“There’s no way we can test every child, but we can certainly ask each school district if they can test those students who were under suspicion of using PEDs and also to develop stronger policies … and punish the adults who allow this,” Dearing said.

The FHSAA’s medical advisory committee is expected to begin work on the new stand-alone policies for school districts and private schools to eventually adopt when they meet at the end of the month.

“I believe what Dr. Dearing said of at least putting the pressure on the athletes of knowing testing is out there is a good deterrent,” said Dr. Jennifer Roth Maynard, an assistant professor of family and sports medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and member of the FHSAA’s advisory committee.

“I think following along with professional testing policies [and] NCAA testing policies, if we can somehow create a policy of our own that reflects and mirrors those, it is a good deterrent. I think education even more than testing is more applicable,” she said.

Dearing said he understands budgets are tight, but believes businesses can step forward and provide funding. Dearing cited how when he was the superintendent in Indian River County, the local Kiwanis Club helped provide funds for random drug testing at a local high school.

“I don’t think we need to turn to the state Legislature for the funding or ask school districts to stretch resources that are already stretched,” Dearing said. “I think there are so many people that already provide financial resources to athletic programs.

He cited, for example, the company that provides athletic tape for the state of Florida, a highly lucrative contract.

Ultimately, said State Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and former president of FHSAA, education is the best remedy to “address this issue with vigor.”

“I have confidence in our young people and our parents [that] if we really do a good job educating them and reaching out to them, making sure they understand the impact of PED use — I think it’s enough to scare anybody,” Montford said. “I think school districts will embrace that and join hands with the FHSAA and particularly the sports advisory committee in making sure everybody knows exactly what the down side to this is.”

Note: An earlier online version of this story, quoting an FHSAA official, cited an incorrect figure for the amount Florida spends yearly on athletic tape.

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