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Updated: 12/10/2015 09:53:09PM

Little extra warning

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Polk County’s area athletic directors said their schools don’t do too much extra in warning its athletes about performance enhancing drugs.

Earlier this week the Florida High School Athletic Association had a press conference in which executive director Roger Dearing said its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee will a conduct a thorough review of existing standards. It will determine if it can stop the trend of PED use among professional and college athletes from spreading into prep sports.

Dearing also said parents, coaches and others have to be vigilant to warn high school students of the health dangers of PEDs.

This was in light of a story this week in the Miami Herald that said in a partial list that it had seen high school athletes were on the client list at Biogenesis, a Miami lab involved with the suspension last week of 13 Major League Baseball players, meaning there may already be a problem.

“We understand it’s out there,” Don Bridges, the Polk County School District athletic director said. “We’d have our heads in the sand if we thought otherwise.”

“You’d have to be crazy to think that high school kids don’t do PEDs,” he said. “They see the pros and colleges do it.”

However, he said there is nothing formal in place to warn high school athletes of the dangers of PEDs. He said he hopes the schools take it upon themselves to warn student athletes.

“I would think that athletic directors do that,” Bridges said. “But I can’t say that they all do.”

In our area, athletic directors said they mostly follow the code of conduct that is out there and the existing state law regarding any kind of drug use, PEDs or others.

“The coaches know what the drug policy is,” Bridges said. “It can make you ineligible to play.”

This week, athletic directors were to meet with the FHSAA and this subject was on the agenda. It was too late to get the results of what they spoke about at that meeting into this edition of the paper.

“We have a meeting with the FHSAA and this is one of the topics on there,” said Bartow High School Athletic Director Ben Braatan. “I got a basic press release on it so I don’t know a lot now, but I’d like to see what’s being recommended.”

He said his coaches at BHS don’t do anything formal with students regarding PEDs, but he said his coaches are fully aware of it and do warn students of the downfalls of it.

“A lot of coaches talk to kids about the damage they can do to their bodies and reputation,” he said.

In Lake Wales there is nothing formal in place, Marvin Pavy, the athletic director there, said.

“If the kids ask questions, the coaches bring it up,” he said.

At Frostproof High School, Athletic Director Chuck Loveless said the school doesn’t have a drug prevention talk, per se, but they do tell parents about the policy.

“At our parent meetings, drugs are always on the agenda,” he said. “If there’s any suspicion, we reserve the right to not let you play. We have zero tolerance.”

And the suspicion and testing is the hard part.

Polk had a random test

In Tuesday’s press conference, Dearing mentioned Polk County is the only county in the state that ever had actual testing. The testing here, which was based on a federal grant, existed for six years and ended two years ago. It randomly tested high school athletes, mostly for drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine, tobacco and the like. There was a shorter period in which it tested for steroids.

According to Audrey Kelly at the Mark Wilcox Center, who ran the testing, there were no positive tests for PEDs in Polk between 2003 and 2008. A test done by the state 10 years ago had similar results, Dearing said. Of the 650 student athletes tested for PEDs, there was one positive result.

Both say, however, that could be deceiving. These, they say, are random tests, as testing under suspicion of drug use has never been done.

Currently there is no testing of high school athletes and there isn’t going to be anything like that soon, Dearing said. He said in Tuesday’s press conference individual districts should take up testing but funding from the Legislature and from the FHSAA is not appropriate. Funding from local districts isn’t likely either, as many are having their own money problems.

“The nation and the state of Florida is in tight financial times,” Dearing said at the press conference. “We’re worried about having enough money to get English teachers in the classroom. We can’t rely on the legislature to fund this. We have to look at local businesses for testing. Maybe there are Kiwanis clubs that can become involved in this.”

“Johnson and Johnson sells a million dollars of tape year (to high schools),” he said. “It’s not the legislature’s or school district’s funds we should look at, but maybe the communities can fund it … that’s my opinion.”

In Polk County, getting school district money is unlikely. It is about $18 million in the hole as it is currently developing a budget for the next fiscal year.

“At this point with the budgetary concerns, I don’t think we’d entertain (drug testing) at this moment,” Kelly said.

The cost for testing for PEDs is about $150 each, Dearing said. Kelly said that is much more expensive than testing for other drugs, which is about $10 each. In rough numbers, if PED testing was done on the 8,000 student athletes in Polk it would cost about $1.2 million.

Another tact that could be taken is preventative measures, Kelly said.

“Maybe the best would be prevention,” she said. “Get some information out there, get them to realize the risk that comes with it.”

They are role models

While there has been no hard evidence of PED drug use among high school athletes, those in charge of athletics feel strongly high school athletes are taking PEDs. Dearing, while complimentary on the Miami Herald article — that showed Biogenesis client list had high school athletes and former Biogenesis employee Porter Fischer telling The Associated Press he’s seen drugs sold to high school students — he has not seen proof of it, Dearing said.

Braatan recalls a student athlete that was suspected of using PEDs when he was in Frostproof.

“There was one football player we suspected but nothing was ever proven,” he said. “The kid’s shoulder would pop out.”

“It’s illegal to speed, too,” Bridges said. “If it gets you to the next level and you get away with it … some get caught and some don’t get caught.”

Children and parents have to be aware of health dangers of drugs. Though some professional athletes don’t want to be viewed as role models, they are in that position and when high school players see someone like Rodriguez succeed and is suspected of taking PEDs, they may figure it’s OK.

However, they should be aware of the star athletes who suffered later in life with health damage and even death. Some notable ones include former Major League Baseball MVP Ken Caminiti and former NFL star Lyle Alzado, who blamed their declines on steroid use.

“It’s tough to try to make a living, but this is cheating,” Braatan said. “They’re all role models whether they want to be or not.”

Dearing said the reporting about the Biogenesis clinic in South Florida serves as a “wake-up call” about the drugs’ possible impact on high-school sports. Miami’s Biogenesis is infamous for its role in a scandal currently rocking Major League Baseball. Thirteen Major League players have been punished for their links to the clinic, and Rodriguez is fighting a 211-game suspension would have him out of baseball all next year.

In his order, Deariang asked the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to consider, but not limit itself, to these issues: whether existing policies and procedures provide sufficient authority for schools to test and discipline student-athletes who may be using banned substances the legal, policy and fiscal implications of heightened policies against performance-enhancing drugs; whether the FHSAA prohibition against performance-enhancing drugs would be more effective if set out as a stand-alone policy rather than existing only as a part of a broader policy on sportsmanship.

Dr. Jennifer Roth Maynard, an assistant professor with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, who was at the press conference, said the advisory committee would begin its review at its next meeting, scheduled for the end of the month. She said she didn’t know how long that would take.

The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of 15 people includes
11 physicians, athletic trainers, former coaches and educators.

In the meantime, athletic directors are going to see what the state wants them to do.

“My biggest thing with the Bartow program is to see what the county is going to tell what the direction is,” Braatan said.

But, he said, the message has to get the kids of what they are facing with PED use.

“They have to understand the short term gains because the long-term gains can be very expensive.”

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