It is believed that on Monday the Fort Zumwalt School District made history. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, they became the first school in Missouri, and possibly in the United States, to implement a student athlete drug-testing program that includes tests for steroids. Paul Boschert, who is the Athletic Director of Fort Zumwalt West High School, was surprised when he learned that Monday’s decision was ground-breaking.
“We just assumed that (other districts) had done it before,” Boschert said. He added,” It’s kind of on the cutting edge.”
This program, which is voluntary, will ask students to submit to random drug tests and attend a seminar on drug use with their parents and coaches. Throughout the school year, five students from each of Fort Zumwalt’s high schools will be randomly tested each week. After tests for recreational drugs, three of the samples will be sent to UCLA’s sports drug-testing lab where they will be screened for performance enhancing substances and masking agents.
If a test comes back positive, the parents of the student and the school district will be notified. There will be no punishment for a first positive test. In fact, the coach won’t eve be told. The school district hopes that the tests will encourage student athletes to make the right decision as opposed to disciplining those who don’t.
“The intent of the program is not to be punitive and dole out punishment. It’s to provide information to the families,” said Fort Zumwalt South High School Athletic Director Michael Brian.
But a dirty sample isn’t without consequences. After a first positive test, the student will be re-tested in 30 days and if he or she tests positive again, the case will be handed over to the school district and the student athlete will likely be kicked off his or her team.
While none of the students have to submit to drug testing, Fort Zumwalt officials made it clear that those who don’t will be punished differently than those who do. If it is learned that a student has used any of the banned substances—even for a first offense—his or her case will be handed directly to the school district and the athlete will likely be kicked off the team immediately.
But how much teeth can a voluntary drug test have? Since the parents have the final say, officials expect the number of students participating will be higher than if the decision was left up to the kids. From the 1997-1998 school year through the 2002-2003 school year, the Fort Zumwalt School District had a similar drug testing policy and about 70 percent of the students volunteered to be tested.
The problem with mandatory testing deals more with questions of students’ civil liberties and the possible lawsuits the district could face if it forced students to be tested. In Brian’s opinion the school district probably wouldn’t be able to move towards mandatory testing without more support.
“We’d have to have a number of other school districts that joined us in this quest before we took it to that next level.” Brian said. “The legality of things like this would have to be fully worked out.”
While the system may not be perfect, there was no question in the mind of those who made the decision that something had to be done publicly, to voice opposition to the use of steroids. With the testing changes in major league baseball, Jose Canseco’s book and recent congressional hearings–both of which implicated local hero, Mark McGwire—-the time seemed to be right for Fort Zumwalt to take their stand.
“I think kids see (media coverage) and they see that steroid use has been brought to the forefront and a lot of successful athletes, it’s been discovered, (are) using steroids,” said John Gibbs, Athletic Director for Fort Zumwalt North High School. He added, “I think (testing for steroids) is a deterrent for kids. (It shows) that we are concerned about that and we’re going to be checking to see if short cuts are taken.”
Gibbs also believes the Fort Zumwalt School District has gotten the ball rolling on steroid testing at the high school level.
“Probably we’ll see a trend (of) other high schools jumping on board and doing this very same kind of thing,” Gibbs said.
While the problem doesn’t seem to have reached epidemic levels in high schools, Brian believes that it’s easier to address the problem before it gets out of control.
“Water rolls down hill and it’s only a matter of time before some of our athletes are exposed to anabolic steroids,” Brian said. “If we stay ahead of the curve and we’re addressing the problem and giving kids a way to say no to those kind of things then we’re doing a good thing.”