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The Politics Of PEDs

After the Miami Herald connected a South Florida steroid clinic with a number of high school athletes, some in the high school athletic world began wondering if it’s a growing problem or an isolated incident. The governing body for high school sports in Florida weighed in this week, but if the recommendations are any indication, FHSAA leaders clearly have not been juicing.

In Tallahassee, Leon High School football players are preparing for the start of their 2013 season. To make sure they’re competition-ready, Head Coach Tim Cokely has his players running drills, memorizing plays and lifting weights.

But this week, the Florida High School Athletics Association warned some high schoolers might be trying to take their weight training to the next level by using performance enhancing drugs. Association Director Roger Dearing announced PED use is pervasive at every level of competition.

“This Problem exists not just in the professional sports world or in the collegiate sports world but also at the high school level,” Dearing said.

That announcement came during a conference call with reporters after the Miami Herald reported some high school athletes were connected to the same drug clinic as a dozen now-suspended Major League Baseball players.  But, Coach Cokely believes what happened in South Florida is likely an isolated incident.

“I’ve been around a lot of football players in the FHSAA; I’ve coached a lot of teams and a lot of kids. To me, I think it would be impossible for it to be prevalent. I think it’s anecdotal, what’s happened in Miami,” Cokely said.

Still, FHSAA officials Tuesday announced they’d be crafting a new policy to address what they say is a growing problem.  But the policy has less weight than those barbells the Leon High footballers were lifting.  The Association wants school districts and private schools to institute random drug-testing for their athletes. That request doesn’t even rise to the level of being an unfunded mandate.  Sure it’s unfunded – the state hasn’t allocated any money to the effort – but it’s not even a mandate because the FHSAA has been stripped of the necessary authority by the Florida Legislature. The state spent a hundred thousand dollars on a pilot drug testing program in 2007 and only one of the 650 athletes tested showed evidence of PED use.  Neither the association nor the state is willing to spend that money again. So Dearing suggested schools seek out private sources of funding.

“I’m aware of a number of school districts that businesses step forward and say we will provide the funds. I mean I was superintendent in Indian River County  and one of the local Kiwanis clubs provided the funds for a –the local high school to perform the random drug testing on its student athletes,” Dearing iterated.

But, Harold Barnwell, Athletic Director at Carrol City High School in Miami argued he already relies on private funds just to keep sports programs going, so asking for more money isn’t realistic.

“You know it would be kind of tough because we have a hard enough time just trying to generate or raise funds for our athletic program just on a positive note,” Barnwell retorted.      

Florida athletics officials know the testing is expensive but worry that the increased visibility of doping athletes like Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong could make impressionable kids want to emulate their favorite stars. But, Leon High School football player Kris Lingo said seeing the pros use PEDs is disappointing.

“They didn’t get where they got by themselves. They used something to help them or give them an extra push that is illegal and yeah I lost a lot of respect for a lot of people,” Lingo scolded.

Lingo’s coach Tim Cokely is all for drug testing, but he doesn’t think it’s a school’s job. He wants parents to do it.

“I think it’s the parent’s responsibility to randomly test their children. You know, god gave the obligation, the responsibility of raising children to the parents, he didn’t give it to the school system,” Cokely maintained.

And Cokely suggested Dearing and the FHSAA are playing a different kind of football.

“You know I think steroids in high schools will become a political football. In that, we’re going to kick it around until where somebody can write a bill to where it helps them. But, it really doesn’t help the kids,” Cokely explained.

The Association will release an official recommendation in the coming months.