A variety of factors facing high school athletes in today's society increase the pressure for those students to perform on and off the playing field. Unfortunately, those same pressures sometimes drive teenagers to experiment with steroids in hopes of improving their athletic prowess.

Photo by Brian Ray

A variety of factors facing high school athletes in today's society increase the pressure for those students to perform on and off the playing field. Unfortunately, those same pressures sometimes drive teenagers to experiment with steroids in hopes of improving their athletic prowess.

Steroid testing hits some schools, but not in Colorado

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— Steroids certainly aren't a taboo discussion topic anymore.

With the release of the Mitchell Report that has rocked Major League Baseball, as well as Congress stepping in and looking at the steroid epidemic, steroids - and maybe more appropriately, cheating - have come to the forefront of America's sporting concerns.

But as the push to ban steroids and like substances, such as Human Growth Hormone, grows in the professional ranks, several states already are trying to combat steroids at the high school level.

In the Mitchell Report, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell cited the Centers for Disease Control's estimate that 3 to 6 percent of high school students use steroids.

In response to growing concerns about youths getting caught in the steroid rage, New Jersey became the first state to institute a steroid testing program at the high school level in 2006. New Jersey randomly tests teams and individuals who qualify for state-level tournaments.

Next year, Texas will begin randomly testing 3 percent of its estimated 730,000 high school athletes. Florida will do the same. California is having discussions on what possibly could be done.

But in Colorado - where the number and ability of athletes isn't as high - testing scholastic athletes for banned substances isn't a hot topic.

"In Colorado, it's not on the radar screen yet," Colorado High School Activities Association Commissioner Bill Reader said.

Education first

Reader said steroid testing in Colorado presents several dilemmas.

First, steroid testing is expensive.

A typical steroid test costs in the range of $200. Texas has poured more than $3 million into its steroid testing program, with Florida spending similarly.

If not done through legislature, Reader said, that cost would be tough for schools to swing and impossible for CHSAA to fund.

"We have kept in communication with our legislature to see if there was anybody that had interest in that kind of stuff," Reader said. "So far, no one really does."

Second, some officials question the effectiveness of steroid testing. What if steroids are just the current problem in the national spotlight, when other, less-publicized problems could pose greater risks to youth?

While there is a media onslaught attacking the steroid issue, roughly the same number of high school students have tried heroin, more than half have tried cocaine and three times as many smoke marijuana, according to a study done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

That doesn't mean steroids are not a serious risk. The side effects of steroid use are well-documented. The testing in Texas, for example, was influenced by passage of "Taylor's Law," which is named after 17-year-old high school pitcher Taylor Hooton, who allegedly committed suicide in 2003 after a steroid-induced depression.

With so many questions, Reader said the most effective way to sway steroid use still is through education.

CHSAA provides each Colorado high school with pamphlets and DVDs highlighting the dangers of steroids. Then it's up to each school and its coaches to pass the message along.

"We do address it," Steamboat football coach Aaron Finch said. "It's not what athletics are about, and it's not what we want to be about. The key aspect we push is diet. The best supplement is good, well-rounded meals."

Finch said he's done extensive research not only on steroids but the abundance of supplements on the market.

Along with his coaching staff, Finch said they dish out warnings about steroids before the season and encourage the team to realize that there is no substitute for hard work.

"We mention it in the same breath as don't drink, don't do drugs, don't do steroids and don't chew," Finch said. "They'll all get bigger and stronger because at this age their body is going to start creating the steroid called testosterone."

No tests yet

Lonn Clementson, a current strength-training teacher, former health teacher and assistant football coach, said while steroids certainly are mentioned in the high school curriculum, it's tough to really focus on them when recreational drug use and alcohol use are much more prevalent among high school students.

"There are young lives completely ruined by this," Clementson said. "We've got over 20 sports available at the high school and for very few athletes it's the only thing they're counting on. The bottom line is, gosh, if it was something we suspected we'd certainly reach out to those people."

Clementson said when he looks at a high school student who wants to put on weight for a sport, he recommends dieting and a lifting program designed to put on two to three pounds of muscle mass a month.

Anything more, Clementson said, can be dangerous.

"That's a lot of tissue to develop," Clementson said. "A lot of kids don't realize how much muscle that really is."

While steroid testing could be in the future for Colorado high schools, Reader said for now, Colorado will continue to educate student-athletes and monitor testing in other states.

"It's a complex subject," Reader said. "There are legal issues, privacy rights and who is using it. It's also who is the biggest drug abuse with. (Testing) is not something we plan on doing at this particular point."

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