Steroid Testing of Florida schools' Athletes Ends Over Money

By: Lee Gordon
By: Lee Gordon

(AP) Maybe Florida’s pilot steroid testing program scared high school athletes away from performance-enhancing drugs. Or maybe performance-enhancing drugs were never a major issue in the state’s schools.

Whatever the case, the testing program has been killed, at least for now, but not just because it found only one steroid user among 600 teens tested. State officials said that in the tough economy, they can’t justify spending the $100,000. Tests were randomly administered at 53 schools, at a cost of $166 apiece.

“We completely understand,” said Cristina Alvarez, spokeswoman for the Florida High School Athletic Association. “We know that money has to go to certain things right now to help the entire state, not just one association.”

The decision came not long before baseball star Alex Rodriguez, a Miami high school legend, admitted using steroids during his Major League career. It leaves just three states — New Jersey, Illinois and Texas — testing high school athletes for steroids.

There had been talk in various statehouses about implementing similar testing programs, but that has died down, said Frank Uryasz, president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport.

“We seem to be at a standstill right now,” said Uryasz, whose company administered the tests with Florida officials. “I’m guessing that may be economically related.”

A 12-page report on the Florida pilot released in the fall noted that most school officials involved in the testing would be willing to resume the program. Fewer than 5 percent said they would not be willing to keep testing students.

Some school districts have turned to federal grant money to test their student athletes for some illegal drugs, but that money doesn’t cover steroid testing. Joe Kemper, Collier County’s coordinator of student drug testing and interscholastic athletics, said at least one of his district’s board members wants testing for performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s probably not affordable.

“In this economy, I think a school district’s priority is going to be in the classrooms and some of these other programs are going to have to be put on the back burner,” Kemper said.

If the state’s pilot program resumes, Kemper said he’d like to see it better-funded and expanded to more schools. He said no athletes in his southwest county were tested.

One student who was tested was O’Brian Abner, a football player at Orange Park High School. His teammates were also tested.

“We thought it was something good, because some people try to cheat their way into having good performances on the field,” said Abner, a left guard for the Raiders.

Abner said he was not surprised that just one person tested positive statewide because student-athletes were warned about the program and it may have caused some to think twice.

“It probably stopped some kids from taking that,” he said. “Because they felt like that might get caught sooner or later. I think it was really good, and I think it should keep going every year.”

But some think the program was a waste of money. Fort Walton Beach athletic director Mike Owens, whose football team was tested, said it focused on a nonexistent problem — at least at his school.

“Not in my area,” Owens said. “You’ve got some schools that are continually breaking records year after year in weightlifting, I think you have to start looking at that. Kind of like the guys hitting home runs.”

If money is found to resume the program, it could be easier to implement, Uryasz said.

“We’ve moved along the learning curve,” he said. “People are much more accepting of it.”

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