High schools not immune to steroid issue

Towson-based organization aims to raise awareness, using Mitchell Report as tool

December 16, 2007|By Stefen Lovelace | Stefen Lovelace,Sun reporter

While the release of the Mitchell Report sparked debates about major league baseball players' Hall of Fame worthiness and tainted record books, the issue of performance-enhancing drugs is much more personal to others.

"This is more than about asterisks and cheating; it's about the lives and health of our kids," Don Hooton said Thursday at the Mitchell Report news conference in New York. Hooton's 17-year-old son, Taylor, committed suicide in 2003 after using anabolic steroids.

Powered by ME!, a nonprofit organization based at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, is committed to educating student-athletes, coaches and parents in Maryland about the dangers of anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing substances. The group plans to use the Mitchell Report as a teaching tool and a deterrent.

"This is major for us," said Mike Gimbel, an educational consultant for the organization. "We are able to take some of the biggest names in sports and use what happened in this report. What's their future? What's their legacy? They cheated baseball, cheated their fans and they cheated themselves. That's the message I need to get out.

"Ninety-nine percent of kids aren't going to be Roger Clemens. They're not going to the league; they have to get a job. If they get arrested, have a record, have liver problems because of steroids in high school, that hurts them in the long term. ... What happens from here, how baseball handles this, will also be important to the message we get out to kids."

Powered by ME! was created in February because "there's a real shortage of information for parents and coaches and kids," said William J. Frank, the organization's project coordinator. "We're trying to get the word out as successfully as possible, so that kids stay away from all types of performance-enhancing drugs and substances. We're not just talking about health aspects, but the ethical aspects as well, especially when you see what happened [Thursday] with the Mitchell Report."

While most of the focus on steroids in sports is at the professional level, there is a growing concern about the use of the drugs at the high school level.

"There have been studies that say nationally, there's about 6 percent of high school students that are taking or have taken anabolic steroids," Frank said. "In raw numbers, that's about a million kids across the country using steroids."

Gimbel said that currently only New Jersey and Texas test for drugs in high schools. He said that financial concerns and the fairness of testing just athletes have been hurdles getting in the way of other states enacting testing. Maryland doesn't test for drugs on the high school level.

"Baltimore is a hotbed for recreation and high school sports. We're a top area, and that's a lot of pressure," Gimbel said. "It's winning at all costs, and if winning is everything, you'll do anything to win. There's enormous pressure on the kids to win and to get bigger, stronger and faster."

Jeff Braun, a senior All-Metro offensive lineman at Winters Mill said: "In my school, I haven't heard of steroids or illegal things, but a lot of kids use the protein shakes, creatine and meal replacements. I definitely see it with smaller guys that want to get bigger, but if they do use it, it's not going to last, and eventually tears a person apart if they start to use that stuff."

Although the drugs might help, some area athletes would rather get bigger and better the right way.

"[Steroids] obviously will help you, but there's so many side effects that come with it that it's really not worth it," said Pat Boyle, a senior offensive lineman at Calvert Hall. "You can get some of the same results just by hard work."

Meanwhile, Powered by ME! will continue to spread the word about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs through conferences, clinics and its Web site, poweredbymemd.com.

"I think [coaches, parents and athletes] are really very receptive to the information," Frank said. "We've had a real positive response. Virtually every single day, there's something in the paper about athletes and steroids. It's always in the news, and it's such a big issue."

stefen.lovelace@baltsun.com

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