Editorial: IHSA plan to test athletes for drugs is the right move

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The number of high school steroid users is small, but even a small percentage translates into a big effect on campus.

An Illinois Department of Health survey in 2003 showed about 3 percent of high school athletes had experimented with steroids, according to Kurt Gibson, Illinois High School Association assistant executive director.

“That roughly translates to about 13 students at each of our member schools,” Gibson said. “Not every school has 13 kids using steroids, but that number made people open their eyes to say steroid use is happening.”

And the IHSA is right to take a lead role to discourage young athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs.

The IHSA board of directors unanimously approved Monday a plan for random drug testing of athletes competing in an IHSA state series, including regionals, sectionals and state championships, starting with the fall of the 2008-09 school year.

Details such as penalties for students who test positive and how tests will be administered will be discussed at the IHSA board meeting in February.

Illinois would become the fourth state to have a steroid-testing program for high school athletes, following New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

“This has clearly been the kind of issue where our membership has taken the lead and let our staff and board know the direction we should go in,” said Gibson, a 1984 graduate of Belvidere High School. “This makes Illinois a leader in this battle because we become the first state to get into this without legislation. Our schools realize this is the right thing to do.”

The IHSA’s sports advisory committee has studied the issue for almost five years. In late 2006, the IHSA announced it wanted random drug testing. In 2007, the IHSA went back to its 750 members, gave them a specific proposal and surveyed the members.

Overwhelmingly, member schools supported the plan.

The big picture is not just leveling the playing field and making sure those who would cheat to gain a competitive advantage don’t play. It’s about the health and well-being of children.

Steroids get the most attention of the performance-enhancers, and rightly so. Steroids can cause serious health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease; liver damage and cancers; stroke and blood clots; urinary and bowel problems such as diarrhea; headache, aching joints and muscle cramps; nausea and vomiting; sleep problems; increased risk of ligament and tendon injuries; severe acne, especially on face and back; baldness.

If that’s not enough, steroids can stunt your growth, not something any aspiring athlete would want.

Athletes, their parents and coaches would be wise to check out the list of banned substances at Steroids get the headlines, but the banned drug class includes some stimulants, diuretics and peptide hormones.

The IHSA will test about a thousand athletes a year to get things started. The initial annual cost will be $100,000 to $150,000, based on an estimated cost of $175 a test.

Any athlete could be tested, but it’s likely that those in sports that have seen drug abuse at the professional, collegiate or international level (such as football and track) will be tested more often. Athletes will be randomly selected at each level, perhaps as early as regional competitions, and tests would be done after games, matches or races with cooperation from school officials.

Students will be asked to go to a locker room or restroom and provide a urine sample. A company in charge of gathering samples and working with the lab will send the sample for testing.

The IHSA has tried to educate athletes and their parents about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs, but the education component is not enough. The Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball lists many stars and potential Hall of Famers. That could lead impressionable young athletes to discount the dangers and give in to the temptation for a quick fix.

The IHSA has made the right move to help student-athletes reject the temptation to use illegal substances to improve their games.

Rockford Register Star