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State hasn't joined testing parade for steroids - for now
Some area prep football coaches unsure if it's needed

By Brooke Milam
bmilam@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

New Jersey is doing it. So are Florida and Texas. But should Alabama follow their lead and begin testing high school athletes for steroids?

Some local prep football coaches aren't sure how to answer that question.

Lawrence County High football coach Ernie Ferguson, a Texas native, said that steroid testing is one way to keep athletes from harmful substances, but it may not be a solution.

"I hope that agencies are doing it for the right reasons and looking at doing it for what's in the best interests of the kids," Ferguson said.

"Society as a whole, we're looking for a quick fix. You see it at the Major League level and in all major sports, with doping being talked about so much. It's one of those things that there's just not a quick way to fix."

New Jersey began testing athletes in 2006. In the past week, governors in Florida and Texas have signed laws that will subject high school athletes in their states to random steroid testing. In Florida, the state has set aside $100,000 to pay for testing, while Texas has budgeted $3 million.

Refusal by any randomly chosen athlete in those states to undergo testing for steroid use would result in their removal from the team until they comply. A positive test would result in suspension from the team.

Decatur coach Jere Adcock said the Alabama High School Athletic Association provides its programs with educational material to help inform coaches and athletes about the dangers of steroids.

"Drug testing has been on the forefront, and most coaches have been in favor if it because it's been a concern," said Adcock, who has served as the Red Raiders' head coach since 1996.

"It was a scare to us because of what is out there and what kids are having to deal with. We want to help them stay away from all that."

Adcock said he's seen the results of steroid use among high school players, but never in Alabama.

"Most definitely it would be addressed if it were a major concern here," said Adcock, who is first-vice president of the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association and is also on the board of the Alabama Football Coaches Association.

Adcock said that if steroid use was prevalent in Alabama, he's sure the AHSAA would find the money for the high-dollar testing.

But he added that he feels comfortable that the drug testing at many school systems it sufficient, including the one conducted at Decatur City Schools athletic programs for substances that do not include steroids.

Decatur High and Austin student-athletes are eligible for random drug testing that Adcock said is conducted monthly in both schools.

Adcock said the responsibility for steroid tracking lies with the coaches in the state.

"The people that are going to find it are the strength coaches and other coaches that are with the kids in the weight room every day," Adcock said. "Those are the people that are going to find it the quickest."

Ferguson, who is preparing for his third season as head football coach at Lawrence County, played high school football outside of Houston. He also coached high school football in the same area before moving to Alabama.

Although Ferguson said he would support testing as a deterrent, his concern would be funding.

"There is a lot more money funneled into high school sports in states like Texas," he said. "The same is probably true in Florida, and I wouldn't be surprised if California is right behind them. Money is a major issue in something like this."

Ferguson said that the $100,000 that Florida High School Athletic Association had allotted per year for steroid testing of football, baseball and weightlifting athletes seemed outrageously low. The Florida program is designed to test about 1 percent of athletes in those three sports at about 650 schools.

With more money set aside for testing, Texas is planning to test a higher percentage of student-athletes than Florida, although it hasn't set a specific number.

However, is it necessary? The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association reported that the 150 random samples taken last fall failed to produce a positive result.

Lawrence County currently does random drug testing of its athletes, as well as band members and ROTC participants, three to four times a year. But the testing does not include steroid detection.

Ferguson said he is unsure of the exact listing of drugs that is currently tested for, but that steroids would be a separate type of testing.

Florida will test only three sports, all of which are traditionally for males. Ferguson said he supports current drug testing methods and that Lawrence County's method of testing more than just a few sports programs is appropriate.

"When you talk about tests like these, you need to talk about anyone representing the school," Ferguson said.

West Morgan's Pierre Coggins, who has been a football coach for 16 years, said he thinks coaches in general throughout the state have done a good job watching for possible steroid abuse.

Coggins, who also teaches health at West Morgan, noted that only recently have problems with steroids been on the radar. Major League Baseball did not institute suspensions for steroid use until 2004.

Coggins added that he feels confident in the state's administration to increase measures of precaution if the problem ever becomes apparent locally.

"You didn't even hear about this until a few years ago," Coggins said. "Now most schools are doing drug testing."

West Morgan athletes know that every four-to-six weeks they might be chosen for random drug testing, and at this point in time, Coggins said, that has kept any potential problems with illegal drugs in athletics in check.

"For right now, it's definitely adequate at keeping kids away from that stuff. They know if they are caught they will sit out," Coggins said. "I think the drug testing in our schools that we have now has done a good job, it's done a really good job."

High school steroid policies

  • New Jersey: Instituted plan in October 2006 to randomly test athletes who have qualified for team or individual state championships. About 150 athletes were tested at a cost of about $150 to $200 a test.

  • Florida:State law mandates that testing about 1 percent of its high school athletes begins July 1. The state has set aside $100,000 for testing.

  • Texas:Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill into law last week that allows testing of athletes in all sports. Budget planners set aside $3 million a year, and their program requires a “statistically significant sample” of students.

  • Alabama:No official statewide steroid testing policy.

    - Staff, Wire Reports

    Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
    AP contributed to this report.

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