By: Michael Wojtychiw and Stephen Villatoro
For all athletes, the pressure of being the best is something that can cause some to do things they would have never imagined.
Anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs have been a part of the sports landscape since the 1970s, from professional sports to high schools. And for Illinois prep athletes as well as many in other states, testing for these banned substances can be the only way to keep the playing field level and the athletes healthy.
However, randomly testing student-athletes doesn’t sit well with everyone.
In December 2006, Illinois High School Association member schools approved a bylaw that took effect on July 1, 2007 and identifies what schools or school officials can and cannot distribute to student-athletes as far as testing. According to the IHSA Web site, this bylaw is a change aimed at strengthening the relationship between students and their schools by affirming the school’s commitment to offering a safe environment in which students can develop.
Paul Murphy, varsity football coach at Waubonsie Valley High School and trustee for the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association, said he believed the IHSA is moving in the right direction with their drug testing policy.
“Performance enhancing substances are not good for anyone, especially teenage athletes who have no idea what they are putting into their bodies and what the drugs are doing to their bodies,” said Murphy. “As coaches and teachers, we do the best we can to educate student-athletes on the harmful effects of performance enhancing substances.”
But not everyone agrees that testing is the right approach to take.
Ed Yohnka, director of Communications for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU does not support this type of testing program, suggesting that random testing is irresponsible and doesn’t send a good message to student-athletes.
“We are concerned about any intrusive, invasive drug testing that is random and suspicionless,” Yohnka said. “We do not agree that we address the serious problems posed by the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs by subjecting every student-athlete in Illinois to a dragnet of drug testing.”
Is the Policy Working?
Steroids and other performance enhancers in sports has become a major topic in professional sports over the past decade. However, when it involves high school athletics it becomes a complicated and highly debatable issue.
Currently 1,000 Illinois student-athletes are randomly tested each year. The Illinois High School Association is made up of 765 schools. That equates to less than two student-athletes per school being tested.
While no one interviewed said steroid use could be avoided, some wonder if it can even be regulated efficiently. A year after the testing measure passed, the IHSA sent out a survey to its 765 members, with questions ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the expansion of classes. Of the 765 administrators asked to fill out the survey, approximately 54 percent responded. The results suggest the drug testing policy has a long way to go before it’s effective.
See the survey results.
Seventy-two percent of the respondents said they did favor a drug-testing program. Those who did favor the plan were asked to answer five more questions about the program. Nearly all of the respondents (284 of the 294) said they would favor declaring ineligible any player who was caught using performance-enhancing drugs or steroids. However, 60 percent said they would not favor the forfeiture of any post-season award.
Matt Troha, assistant executive director of the IHSA, believed there was an explanation for the statistics.
“I believe the majority of the membership who voted this way wanted each case reviewed by our Executive Director rather than having a broad plan,” Troha said. “For example, if a student who was sitting out all postseason because of injury was tested through our program and tested positive, the administrators felt like that student had no barring on the result and the other kids should not be punished.”
Troha said 10 athletes have tested positive so far, but were given exemptions by a medical review officer. The numbers suggest IHSA athletes are staying clean but the plan is designed to test only a small amount of students. However, the study proved the program still has unresolved issues.
Loyola Academy senior football player Quinn Kaiser said the results of the test proved just how different certain schools and officials feel about the whole program.
“That just goes to show how greedy some people can be I guess,” Kaiser said. “Some people just care more about winning than being right and that’s sad. I know if it was me, and I am pretty sure it goes for the rest of the people here at Loyola, but if someone messes up, you need to do what’s right. If you cheat, take responsibility. It’s only right.”