Your time is up: Steroid testing comes to state high schools



Burlington County Times

Matt Hoffman's body still isn't big enough. His times in the 40 are fast, but they could be faster.

Hoffman, a lanky 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior at Burlington Township High School , works out regularly during the offseason. He lifts weights, he runs, he tries to eat the right foods. Yet, no matter how hard he tries he can't build the body that others his age have already built.

What's a teenager hoping to play college football to do?
“It's frustrating because you see guys work out less than you do and they still get bigger than you do,'' Hoffman said. “In my case, it's not because they're on anything. I know the guys I work out with. They get big fast, but that's just the way their body is built. But I'm different. I'm always forced to catch up.

“Did I ever think about taking steroids? Sure. It's crossed my mind. But they're just not good. They're not morally right.''

Ethically unacceptable to some, too dangerous for others, steroids have still become a quick fix for many scholastic athletes in the United States.
Not strong enough to be noticed by a college recruiter?
Take steroids.
Not quick enough?
Take steroids.
Not always tough enough?
Take steroids.
“They're dangerous,''
Burlingtong Township
football coach Tom Maderia said. “You look at their side effects and it's scary. Heart problems, cancer, you name it. But the urge is there. The pressure to get a college scholarship nowadays is enormous. Let's face it. Kids aren't taking steroids to make their teams better. They're taking them to get a scholarship.''

Earlier this month, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association — the governing body of scholastic sports in the state — gave preliminary approval on a plan to make New Jersey the first state in the nation to institute a drug-testing policy for high school athletes.

If the plan — initiated by state Sen. Richard J. Codey — is approved next month, high school athletes who compete for a state championship, either individually or as part of a team, can be randomly tested starting next fall for about 80 banned substances ranging from amphetamines to steroids.

Players will be tested either before or after a competition. Any athlete who fails the test will be prohibited from participating in scholastic sports for a year.

Many Burlington County Coaches and players applaud the idea of steroid testing, but say the policy doesn't go far enough. Of the 240,000 high school student athletes in the state, only about 500 will be tested.
The tests could also become an economic burden for an already tapped out state school budget.
“It's a difficult situation right now either way,'' said Willingboro athletic director David Riley, a former football and track coach who played both college and professional football in the 1980s. “It would take a lot to test everybody, but you really should test everybody. But at least this is a start. At least now people are aware there's a problem.''
There's a Problem, All Right
Obviously, not all kids who play high school sports are juiced. Most student athletes — even those who take their sports seriously — would rather compete the natural way.
Others — and their numbers are growing — have found nature lacking.
“I'm not sure how many athletes I compete against take steroids,'' said
Willingboro sprinter Jasmine Rich. “But I see a lot of big girls out there. I'm not really that big myself, but sometimes I feel like a 9-year-old next to those girls. It's not fair. It's cheating and they shouldn't be allowed to cheat.''
Many schools in the state already have ways of finding out if a player has been taking a performance-enhancing substance.
At Shawnee, which has one of the largest student populations in the county, a coach can recommend an athlete be tested by school doctors. According to Tim Gushue, the school's football coach, if a student is displaying some of the tell-tale symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse the school can ask that student to get tested by school doctors. Steroid use falls under that criteria.

“I'm going to instruct him to go our school doctor to get tested,'' Gushue said. “If he refuses, then he can't play for my team until he's tested by his own doctor and receives a clean bill of health. That's it.''

If the NJSIAA gives final approval of the plan on June 7, there will be another course of action.

“Obviously, there's good points and bad points about what the NJSIAA is trying to do,'' Gushue said. “I still believe education plays a big part, and that's a teacher and a coach's responsibility. We need to educate our students on steroids and the harm they can do. We know steroids are out there and we know kids are taking them.

In 2003 the federal Centers for Disease Control estimated that 6.1 percent of the country's high school students had taken steroids without a doctor's prescription at least once. In New Jersey, a survey that same year found that 3.1 percent of the state's student athletes had experimented in steroids.

A 2004 survey conducted by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy found that 19.7 percent of eighth-graders, 29.6 percent of 10th-graders, and 42.6 percent of 12th-graders reported that steroids were “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain.

Besides New Jersey, two other states — California and Florida — are considering statewide testing.
“Ten years ago, these drugs were almost impossible to get,''
Willingboro football coach Nelson Hayspell said. “Now, you can get them anywhere. The people who dish these drugs out to kids all run in the same circles. Kids go to health clubs nowadays. I'm not saying that health clubs distribute steroids, but there are people working out there who know how to get them. It's all a matter of who knows somebody, who knows somebody else, who knows somebody. It's drug dealing. Steroids are illegal, just like cocaine.'' Take At Your Own Risk
Concerned about the future health and well-being of today's teenagers, Codey began pushing for high school testing in New Jersey while serving as governor last year.
Codey, and avid sports fan who still enjoys coaching youth basketball, created a task force on steroid use last July. He released the official report from that task force in December.

“We've all seen the statistics and read the articles about the impact that steroids are having on kids,'' said Codey, announcing that New Jersey would be the first state to take comprehensive statewide action to address the issue of steroids. “This is a growing public health threat, one we can't leave up to individual parents, coaches or schools to handle.

“This report puts us at the forefront in dealing with the problem of ster-oids. Today, we are putting this plan into action and becoming the first state in the nation to address this problem on a state-wide level.”

Bob Baly is an assistant director at the NJSIAA who is helping to spearhead the organization's attack on performance-enhancing drugs. Baly knows all about the risks that steroid use brings.

Steroids can increase lean body mass, strength, and aggressiveness. Steroids can also reduce recovery time between workouts, which makes it possible to train harder.

Steroid use also can lead to a long list of health issues, including liver cancer, heart attacks, high cholesterol and infertility. For men, steroids can lead to shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, and an increased risk for prostate cancer. For women the effects can cause facial hair, baldness, changes in the menstrual cycle and a deepened voice.

For teenagers, steroids can prematurely stop the lengthening of bones, stunting growth.

Yet, high school athletes are still willing to take the risk. That's why the NJSIAA has decided to set the pace in scholastic testing.

The NJSIAA has yet to determine exactly what type of procedure will be used to test scholastic athletes. Taking blood from an athlete is one possibility. Urine also can be examined, but a good steroid — a steroid that is hard to detect — has an easier chance of going undetected during that procedure. Taking a hair sample from an athlete is another way of detecting performance-enhancing drugs.

As of right now, the NJSIAA plans on testing only athletes who compete for a state championship. But what about the player who knows that his team has no chance of reaching a state championship?

“We believe that most student athletes anticipate contending for a state championship before the season begins,'' Baly said. “This policy would make it such that an athlete would think twice before taking steroids, knowing that there's a chance he might get caught.''

Not all steroids are illegal. Many doctors prescribe steroids for patients with cancer or low blood counts. Many patients suffering from AIDS are also prescribed steroids.

Taken illegally, without a prescription, without guidance and in heightened quantities by an athlete looking for a physical edge, steroids can cause serious health problems.

“I would never take those things, never,'' Maderia said. “I see players just taking supplements bought at a nutritional store. Hey, I know they're legal. But you know what, I'm not taking those, either.''

Making A Difference. Does Codey and the NJSIAA have all the answers?
Does anybody?
Major League Baseball has recently curtailed the use of steroids among its players, but only after the United States Congress forced the issue. Other professional sports leagues — the NFL, the NBA and the NHL — have had stringent policies against the use of performance-enhancing drugs for years, but even their commissioners will admit that keeping every player clean can be an arduous task.

According to Baly, there will be more random tests done on athletes involved in “high risk sports” — football, wrestling, boys and girls swimming, baseball, boys lacrosse, and boys and girls track — than in other low risk sports, like golf.

“There's no way I would take steroids,'' said Hoffman, who will switch from lineman to linebacker this fall to better utilize his speed. “There's too much of a risk. You're going to get bigger and stronger if you take them, but at what cost.''

Sometimes, it's a big one.

“Do I think it's a big problem in the high schools in our area? No. But I think it's a good deterrent,'' said Mark Haines,

Rancocas Valley's head athletic trainer. “You can't deny that it's out there and kids are doing it. I don't think it's a problem in our area with the programs we have, as much as it is in other states where the pressure is there to get big in some of those big football programs.

“No matter what you do, testing is a tough thing, especially steroid testing. It's expensive. I think it's a good start, doing it at the championship level. Kids will know if they get there that they'd better be clean.''

Baly said that the final determination on what medical company will administer the tests has yet to be determined, but that the tests will be done on site.

No matter where it's done or how it's done, next season's testing will be a step in the right direction.

Other states may have bigger steroid problems among its high-school aged students than

New Jersey, say county administrators, teachers and coaches. But no other state in the nation will have a plan to stop steroids like this state.

“I don't think it's a problem in girls sports at all,'' said Brooke Cantwell, a senior and the goaltender of Moorestown's nationally ranked girls lacrosse team. “I don't know anyone that does it. But obviously it's better to prevent it than to let it happen then try to stop it.

“I don't see why you would ever need it. There are so many programs out there that can make you stronger, that can make you better without using steroids. I don't see a need for them. Unfortunately, other people must have different opinions.''



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