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Student athletes sign up for drug test

FORT ZUMWALT

Eighty percent of athletes at Fort Zumwalt North High School have signed up for the district’s new drug-testing program, which has drawn national attention because it includes steroid testing.

Superintendent Bernard DuBray said figures are not yet available for the district’s two other high schools.

The program is set up so coaches must first meet with athletes and parents to explain the program.

Paul Boschert, activities coordinator at West High, said the response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive.

“They are thanking us for bringing it back,” Boschert said.

The district hosted its annual coaches’ meeting Thursday at North High School. The focus was on the drug-testing program. School starts Wednesday.

DuBray said he has received inquiries from across the nation about the district’s decision to include testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

“We are the first district in Missouri to test for steroids,” he said. Only 4 percent of high schools in the nation do.

Some athletes use steroids to increase muscle mass to improve athletic performance.

“Lots of times, kids do not even realize steroids pose a threat,” DuBray said.

The health hazards are serious, according to a research report on the Web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Studies show that, over time, anabolic steroids can take a heavy toll on a person’s health.

The abuse of oral or injectable steroids is associated with higher risks for heart attacks and strokes, and the abuse of most oral steroids is associated with increased risk for liver problems.

Steroid abusers who share needles or use non-sterile techniques are at risk for contracting infections such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and bacterial endocarditis.

Endocarditis is an inflammation of the lining of the heart and its valves.

Steroid abuse also can cause unwanted body changes, including breast development and genital shrinking in men, masculinization in women, and acne and hair loss in both sexes.

Although more men abuse steroids than women, the problem is growing most rapidly among young women.

Fort Zumwalt started a similar voluntary program in the 1997-98 school year. That program tested for illegal drugs, such as marijuana, but not for steroids. It was cut for budgetary reasons in the 2002-03 school year.

Casey Stillman, 17, a senior football player at North High, said he has volunteered to be tested.

“I know people who’ve taken anabolic steroids,” he added. “It’s a lot more common than you think. It’s a lot easier to get than you think.”

Stillman acknowledges that steroids can improve athletic performance.

“There are also side effects,” he said. “You have to weigh the good and the bad.”

Teammate Khris Dunard, 17, a senior, signed up for testing, as well.

“I never felt that I needed to use steroids,” he said. “I feel you just go out there and work hard and you get what you put into it. There’s no need to take shortcuts.”

North cheerleaders Kim Schaefer and Sarah Becker, both 17-year-old seniors, also signed up.

“I was tested freshman year,” Becker said. “It’s not a big deal.”

“I don’t do drugs,” Schaefer said. “I have nothing to worry about.”

Fort Zumwalt coaches heard not only from DuBray, but from four guest speakers: Channel 5 sportscaster Frank Cusumano; Ephraim Mufson, with Clinical Collection Management, the Webster Groves company that will administer the program; Jon Gibbs, North High’s activities coordinator; and Melanie Getz, a former world champion weightlifter.

Cusumano said more media attention should focus on the negative consequence of steroid use.

After reading Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced,” Cusumano said, one might wonder if there’s a down side to steroid use. After all, Canseco is handsome, adored by women, rich and — thanks in part to steroids — had a successful baseball career.

Athletes need to know, Cusumano said, that now, decades later, there is a high rate of birth defects among children born to former steroid-using Olympians who lived in what were once Eastern Bloc countries.

The district’s program will use a UCLA testing facility that is the “gold standard” in detecting performance-enhancing drugs, Mufson said. The lab is the only one in the nation certified by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Gibbs reminded coaches of their unique position to positively influence young lives.

Rather than preaching that young athletes become bigger and faster, Getz said, coaches should focus on teaching the technique of their sport.

Getz won three world championships and seven national titles.

She made it to the summit of her sport, she said, without using illegal substances. Her competitors knew it because she was tested so often.

At times, Getz said, she wondered why she was tested so often.

“Let’s test this 37-year-old woman going through menopause,” she said. “And yet they don’t catch the woman standing next to me who’s got a beard.”

Steve Pokin can be contacted at spokin@yourjournal.com