Push for steroid testing an issue worth raising

On High Schools

High Schools

April 15, 2005|By MILTON KENT

PAT COURTEMANCHE knows what is going through the minds of a lot of high school athletes, and not just because he coaches them, but because he was one of them not that long ago.

Courtemanche, the baseball coach and director of physical education at Pallotti in Laurel, was a good, but not great football player, first at Good Counsel High in Wheaton, then at West Virginia Wesleyan, a Division II college.

At some point, a light bulb went off in Courtemanche's head that, in order to cross the bridge from good to great, or, at least to better, he would need help. He found that help through the use of creatine, a supplement that, in the minds of many, resembles steroids.

Courtemanche recognizes now that he chose wrongly, and wants to make sure that the kids he coaches and teaches don't follow him down the wrong path.

So, he thinks the time has come to add steroids to the list of drugs that his school already randomly tests for, and he thinks other schools should consider it as well.

"They [the athletes] are trying to enhance their game, and kids are going to try different things in order to be the best," Courtemanche said. "It's what high school sports seems to be these days. It's that competition to get that scholarship or to get to the next level. Some kids may take that chance. I'm not saying all kids take that chance, but you never know."

So far, things are good. Courtney Courtemanche, the school's athletic trainer and Pat's wife, said, to date, Pallotti coaches have found only two containers of protein shakes on school property, used by a pair of athletes of winter sports.

Courtney Courtemanche said the containers were seized and disposed of and the two athletes were given a stern talking-to. She said the school can test for steroids, if there's suspicion of usage, but there has been none so far.

"Who knows what's in that stuff [supplements]?" said Courtney Courtemanche. "Basically, we tell the kids, `Don't take anything. You don't need anything."'

The school already randomly tests a pool of 10 students, including one athlete per season, for 17 controlled dangerous substances, like marijuana and cocaine.

The urinalysis tests at Pallotti are conducted four times a year at a cost of about $20 per student tested, according to Courtney Courtemanche, who added that an additional steroid test would cost about $100 per student tested.

All over the country, people are running around to do something, anything about the scourge of steroids. Michigan, for instance, is examining whether to require high schools to ban steroids, while Florida is looking into drug testing some athletes. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is reportedly considering a plan to ban kids who use steroids from playing sports for a year.

The board that governs interscholastic sports in California will vote next month whether to not only ban steroid use, but also to require each of the state's coaches to get instruction on performance-enhancing drugs.

Locally, Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association told The Sun's Edward Lee earlier this month that state officials organized a task force to review random testing of athletes for illegal drugs (not performance-enhancing drugs) sometime before 2000.

However, the task force reported that there were too many logistical nightmares to support testing and that the cost (somewhere between $70 and $90 per athlete) was prohibitive. The task force suggested using the funds earmarked for testing on an educational campaign seeking to warn athletes about the dangers of drugs. Since then, no such movement regarding testing has emerged.

All of which might lead some to wonder if, in the rush to show we care, we are slowing down enough to see if there's a problem.

In the wake of last month's celebrated congressional hearings, in which Major League Baseball officials and a panel of players, including admitted user Jose Canseco, supposedly found religion, we're all wondering who's taking steroids in sports, and whether our kids are getting the right message.

In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, we could assume that high school athletes, or at least the ones we know of here, are staying away from the cream and the clear and everything else related.

According to Rick Diggs, the executive director of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association of which Pallotti is a member, the issue of steroids has not come up in either coaches meetings before and after each season or in monthly athletic directors meetings. Diggs said the steroids matter has not been placed on the agenda for action or discussion during the coming MIAA principals meetings.

"We'd be naive to think that there's not some [steroid usage], but it's not a tremendous problem," said Diggs, who is also Pallotti's director for institutional advancement. "Our main problems are in eligibility and students transferring. Most of the schools keep a pretty good eye on these things."

But is that enough?

"The issue needs to be raised," said Pat Courtemanche. "With the high school kids these days, you just never know. It seems like everyone is trying to do the best, so they can get to college or the next level. I'm not saying that every kid does it, but it could be that one kid out of 100,000 or a million that does it. Something may happen to that individual before we catch onto it. Our role, as teachers, coaches and administrators, is to make sure our kids are doing everything fine and doing it by the books and without having to go through abnormal circumstances to get better."

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