N.J. Begins Mandatory Steroid Testing

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.8, September 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1408/bbsteroidtesting.htm

New Jersey isn’t the first state to consider it, but it is the first to take the plunge. This fall, the Garden State will begin random testing for performance-enhancing drugs in high school athletes in all championship sports, following an executive mandate by former Acting Governor Richard Codey.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) is carrying out the testing plan, testing about five percent of student-athletes whose teams qualify for postseason play. Roughly 10,000 athletes qualify for the postseason in the state’s 31 championship sports, so about 500 students will be tested this year.

Codey based his mandate on the report of a task force created in July 2005 to study steroid use in young athletes. The task force’s 18 members included high school administrators, professors of sports psychology and orthopedic surgery, and coaches. In December, the group recommended a series of steps, including random testing, to address what it perceived as a serious problem.

“We looked at the statistics first,” says Bob Baly, Assistant Director of the NJSIAA and a member of the task force. “About three percent of high school seniors nationwide admit to having used steroids, and there’s evidence that the real number is closer to five or six percent. We have about 240,000 athletes in New Jersey, so it’s not hard to do the math.”

The task force also noted that many student-athletes say steroids are very easy to come by. “They told us all you have to do is type in the right words on the Internet or know the right people around school,” Baly says.

The tests will look for about 80 banned substances in all, ranging from amphetamines to steroids. Any athlete who tests positive will immediately be declared ineligible for 365 days.

The governor’s office gave the NJSIAA a $50,000 grant to pay for the first year of testing, but has yet to decide how tests will be paid for in subsequent years. A private agency will perform the tests.

According to a study released this spring by the NCAA, focusing steroid prevention efforts on high school athletes makes good sense. The study surveyed 20,000 college athletes and discovered that more than half of college steroid users began using in high school, compared with 35 percent who started in college and 14 percent who started prior to high school.

Marty Holleran, Head Boys’ Coach at Metuchen High School and a member of the NJSIAA Track and Field Committee, says drug testing sends a strong message to athletes that steroids are not an acceptable way to enhance performance. He also points out that testing in high school helps to prepare athletes for the next level.

“A lot of the kids who are eligible for testing will go on to compete in college, and the NCAA has a testing policy, so it’s important for them to make sure they’ve got nothing to hide,” Holleran says. “I don’t believe steroid use is a big problem in track and field in New Jersey, and I expect the tests to back that up.”

While the mandatory testing plan has drawn the most attention, it isn’t the only way New Jersey is addressing performance-enhancing substance use by high school athletes. The task force’s work will also result in a steroid education plan for the state’s elementary and middle schoolers, as well as ramped up educational efforts for coaches, athletic trainers, and school nurses.

This spring, Florida almost joined New Jersey in testing high school athletes, after the state legislature allocated $200,000 for a testing program to begin in 2007. But the plan was nixed when Governor Jeb Bush cut that funding from the state budget. “Of course, the governor has final say, and we respect his right to veto,” Florida High School Athletic Association Commissioner John Stewart told the Tampa Tribune. “We had hoped we could get some kind of testing program going, but the biggest problem is the cost.”

While testing is not on the immediate horizon for Florida, Stewart remains convinced it’s an idea worth pursuing. “I think as long as [steroid use] is a major issue in professional athletics like it is today, it will be an issue,” he said. “The only way to stop it is through testing. Education is an important part, and we will do our part in that regard, but if you really want to put a stop to it, you have to test for it.”