N.J. Begins Steroid Testing

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.10, November 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1410/steroidtesting.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 began random testing for performance-enhancing drugs in high school athletes in all championship sports, following an executive mandate by former Acting Governor Richard Codey.

To carry out the testing plan, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has contracted Drug Free Sport in Kansas City, Mo., the same company that conducts drug tests for the NCAA and minor league baseball. About five percent of student-athletes whose teams qualify for postseason play will be randomly selected for testing. 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 this year’s testing, but the association has not decided how future tests will be paid for.

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 will also implement 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.