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Friday, June 1, 2007

Schools await details on steroid testing plan

Texas Legislators have decided schools will conduct mandatory random steroid testing starting with the upcoming school year. However, school officials are still awaiting details on how the program will be conducted, and whether or not the $3 million earmarked by lawmakers for the tests will be enough to fund the program.

Legislators on Monday approved the bill, which could lead to testing of thousands of students at the start of the coming football season. If Gov. Rick Perry signs the bill into law, athletes who test positive, or refuse to be tested, could be suspended from play. Athletes in all sports, from football to wrestling to tennis, could be tested.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD athletic director and head football coach Chris Henson said hes still waiting to hear from either state officials or the Texas High School Coaches Association on how the program will be carried out, but added that he supported the move. I think they needed to put everybody on a level playing field, said Henson. I know in some of the schools Ive been to, steroids have been a problem.

He said all the reports in recent years of professional athletes using steroids has helped increase the desire of high school athletes to take the drugs, which build muscle mass but can cause serious or life-threatening health problems in future years.

The kids are following behind and doing it, but weve always been against it here, he said. Weve got posters in the locker rooms at the high school and in junior high explaining their effects on athletes.

We do have kids taking creatine supplement, but we do close monitoring of them, and make sure they get off the supplement in July, so they dont get dehydration, Henson said. Creatine is a nonessential amino acid naturally manufactured in the liver and kidneys, which has the ability to build muscle and decrease body fat.

Not all students will receive the steroid tests. The Senate's original plan was to test at least 22,000 students - about 3 percent of the 730,000 of high school athletes - for about $4 million per year, but that was cut back to $3 million, and the number to be tested in the final bill sent to Perry was described as a "statistically significant sample" of students by Sen. Kyle Janek, a Houston Republican who sponsored the bill.

About 130 of Texas' 1,300 public high schools already test for steroids. But there was no initial word on how the testing would be handled statewide under the new bill and with the $3 million set aside for testing. That includes information on whether each school would be required to test a certain number or students, or if the number of tests per school would be based on total enrollment within the high school.

I would imagine theyll do some before the season and in the middle of the season, said Henson.

The original Senate version also would have put specific penalties for positive tests into the law. Lawmakers instead decided to give UIL officials flexibility to set those rules.

UIL Executive Director William Farney told the Dallas Morning News that most schools that currently test for steroids have a 30-day ineligibility period for a first offense. Second positive tests result in a year-long ban, while a third positive results in a permanent ban from high school athletics.

Farney added that the state agency would contract with a company to do all random steroid testing, in order to assure uniform results, and there will be an appeals process set up. Test results also are to be limited to the athlete, his parents and school administrators.

It was also unclear on what type of testing would be done. Steroid testing can cost between $110 and $190 per test, according to the UIL, depending on if blood or urine samples are used to conduct the tests.

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