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Steroid Testing Program Ends a Long Debate

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I read with interest a recent ( June 3, 2008) article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Steroid testing ends to mixed reviews- "Florida's decision last summer to implement a steroid testing program for high school athletes made national headlines.
But now that most state-sanctioned sporting events have ended, so has the one-year pilot program.
The result?

Of approximately 600 athletes, only one tested positive, said FHSAA spokeswoman Cristina Alvarez."


8.6 million dollars later and I can only imagine what types of programs that money could have gone towards. I wrote about this in a Washington Post Op-Ed which ran on December 5, 2006 and will share it with you in the hopes that it may save another state from wasting money.


Spend Money on Sports Programs Not Drug Testing High School Athletes

Washington Post Dec. 5, 2006

Last Tuesday, John Walters, the White House director of National Drug Policy, and Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon, announced with great fanfare at a high school in Florida that $8.6 million in federal money had been earmarked for student drug testing programs across the country.


That money would be better spent to fund programs designed to increase participation in after-school sports programs that could reduce drug usage by our teens and stem the epidemic of childhood obesity.


There is an urgent need to reform the interscholastic sports programs in the nation's public middle and high schools to provide for full inclusion.


The current public high school model - one first-year team, one varsity, one sub varsity - might have made sense at the time it was adopted in 1924, when the number of roster spots was roughly equal to the number of those who wanted to play. But it makes no sense today, when the number of those who want to continue playing sports in middle school and high school far exceeds the finite number of spots available.


It is especially important for teenagers to know that they belong; that they fit in. Cutting tells teenagers that they don't fit in, that they don't belong. This is the wrong message to send during adolescence. As the most prominent of all high school extracurricular activities, athletics continues to confer on its participants the highest levels of status and prestige in our teenage culture. The feeling by athletes that they are special tends to lead to disharmony, the creation of cliques, and to reinforcing the jock culture, not to promoting feelings of community, full inclusion, and cooperative learning that schools work so hard to instill. Adopting a policy of full inclusion would be especially beneficial for teenage boys, for whom sports would provide an outlet for their aggression and help them connect socially with other boys.


Under full inclusion, teams would be added as necessary to meet the demand, even if it meant fielding two or three more teams. Every athlete would practice, but only athletes in good academic standing and with no disciplinary problems would suit up for games. To ensure that schools would field the most competitive teams, the most skilled players would still get the bulk of the playing time at the varsity level.


The extra teams could be funded through the additional user fees, with money raised by booster clubs and/or by parents of the athletes themselves, some of whom could be recruited as volunteer coaches. Government money now spent on drug testing of athletes could be redirected to fund more sports teams.


According to a February 2006 Gallup Youth Study, one in five teens is now overweight with only 21 percent of teens claiming to participate in sports or recreation five to six days a week and only 19 percent of our teens participating in vigorous sports or physical activity five to six days a week. Children who are cut from sports teams will not exercise as frequently as they would if they were playing sports; they are much more likely to spend their afternoons watching television, becoming obese, and getting into trouble.


Another recent study found a positive association between playing interscholastic sports and an increase in the number of an athlete's friends who are academically oriented. The study also found that participation in interscholastic sports "significantly increased social ties between students and parents, students and the school, parents and the school, and parents and parents ... and a reduction in illicit drug and alcohol use."


Signs that the time to eliminate exclusion from school sports teams surfaces on a daily basis. Last week marked the conclusion of the 2006 fall school, club and town sports seasons. If the nation's newspapers are any guide, it was the most troubled and violent youth sports season on record.


A policy of full inclusion for interscholastic sports at the middle and high school level would also eliminate one of the principal reasons for parental misconduct in youth sports.


Given the intense competition for the limited roster spots on high school teams, no wonder so many parents are led by our winner-take-all society to act in inappropriate ways - to become violent when they see their child's chances at winning one of the coveted spots threatened by a coach who decides to sit him or her on the bench.


It simply makes no sense whatsoever from a public health standpoint to continue the cutting policy that contributes to an overall decline in physical fitness among adolescents and young adults and does nothing to combat drug use by keeping teens busy in after-school programs such as sports.


Brooke de Lench is the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins Sept. 2006) and editor-in-chief of MomsTeam.com.