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Prep steroid testing okayed

The pilot program will begin in July for three sports: wrestling, football and baseball.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published May 2, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - High school wrestlers, football players and baseball players would be subject to random testing for anabolic steroids starting next school year, under a one-year pilot program embraced by lawmakers.

About 1 percent of high school athletes in those three sports would be tested randomly over the course of the year, beginning in July. Students who test positive would be suspended from athletics for 90 days, when a follow-up test would be given. They would not face criminal charges and their academic standing would not be affected.

The House unanimously approved the program for public and private school athletes Monday, and the Senate approved it Tuesday.

Final passage of the legislation is expected today or Thursday, when the chambers vote on a late addition to the bill that would remove private school athletics from the Florida High School Athletic Association and create a second, separate governing body for private-school programs and athletes.

It's not clear whether Gov. Charlie Crist supports the legislation.

Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami, has tried for four years to get the steroid testing approved.

"We have to create a deterrent so that young high school students do not take these steroids," said Llorente, a lawyer and former three-sport high school athlete. "And hopefully we can expand it in the future. This is very important."

Llorente's push reflects local, state and national concerns that steroid use in professional sports has trickled down to colleges and high schools.

"It's not normal to gain 40 pounds over the summer," said Jamie Joyner, head coach at Brooksville's Nature Coast Technical High School. He said he hasn't seen evidence of steroid use at his current job, but recalled a few cases that gave him pause when he was a former assistant coach in Pinellas County.

"You just see kids that blow up in a very short period of time," Joyner said. "You've been coaching for a while, it makes you wonder what they are doing."

According to a 2004 state study, about 19,350 Florida students reported having used steroids. That represents about 1.4 percent of the population. Of those, 5,600 said they had taken steroids within the past month.

That compares to 2 percent of students in the United States that use steroids regularly, with high school seniors reporting the highest use.

At the time of the 2004 study, 11 Florida school districts already tested their athletes for drugs, though not for steroids. Polk County added steroid testing in 2005 to its athlete drug testing.

Karrmayne King, the girls basketball coach and athletic director at Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg, said recent steroid scandals in sports like track and field accentuate the need for testing at the high school level.

"To get things cleaned up at the upper levels, you need to start at this level," King said.

The legislation currently states that the pilot would be administered by the FHSAA. But on Tuesday, Sen. Daniel Webster tacked an amendment onto the bill that would create the Florida Private School Athletic Association to oversee athletics in private schools.

Currently, private schools are governed by the FHSAA, just like public schools.

Lawmakers said later that any private-school governing body would be subject to the same rules and standards as the FHSAA. So the steroid testing would apply to private-school athletes, too.

Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville, who supports the proposed athletic association for private schools, said lawmakers will probably have to tweak the language of the bill to make that intent clear.

FHSAA commisioner John Stewart on Tuesday called the steroid testing "a good thing," though he does not support a second body to oversee private schools.

According to the rules of the pilot, schools would send the names of all athletes in football, wrestling and baseball to the FHSAA or, for private schools, likely the new governing body.

The FHSAA would forward those names to an accredited testing agency. The agency would then randomly select names from that group, up to 1 percent of the total athletes, for testing.

To compete in the three sports, high school athletes would have to sign forms consenting to the tests.

All records of tests and student names would be exempt from the state's public records laws, according to related legislation that cleared the House and Senate this week.

Any student who tests positive would be suspended from practice and games for 90 days and could not return until a subsequent test comes back clean. Those athletes also would have to go through a drug education program and would have to take regular tests for the duration of their high school athletic careers.

Athletes can appeal the results, which would be maintained separate from a student's academic record.

The FHSAA would provide the Legislature with a report on the steroid test results by October of 2008.

Coach Sean Callahan, whose Armwood football team won state titles in 2003 and 2004, said he is in favor of the testing.

"We're all for anything that's for the betterment and health of these kids."

Times researcher Cathy Wos and staff writers Joey Knight and David Murphy contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Fast Facts:

Steroids

-Some of the most common anabolic steroids taken today are Anadrol, Oxandrin, Durabolin, Depo-Testosterone and Equipoise.

-Anabolic steroids typically are injected, swallowed or applied to the skin like a cream or gel.

- Side effects include liver cysts and cancer, kidney cancer, hostility and aggression and acne.

- Males can experience reduced sperm production, shrunken testicles and breast enlargement.

- Females typically develop beards and other masculine traits, and their periods become irregular or stop altogether.