Straight Talk Is the Best Deterrent to Steroid Use

An anonymous steroid user shows off his biceps. Some local students say they have used supplements, but not steroids, to enhance athletic performance.
An anonymous steroid user shows off his biceps. Some local students say they have used supplements, but not steroids, to enhance athletic performance. (1996 Photo By Charles Krupa -- Associated Press)
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By Preston Williams
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Florida chose not to fund its steroid-testing program for high school athletes this school year after snagging only one violator among the 600 subjects who were randomly tested last year -- not much muscle for a $100,000 flex. New Jersey got the same result, one violator. Texas tested more than 10,000 students and nabbed two. The price tag for two dirty urine samples? $3 million.

With those swing-and-miss results and tight budgetary times, it's hard to imagine states continuing to spend money on testing high school athletes for steroids (although Illinois is going to take a shot this school year).

Maryland, Virginia and the District don't test high school students for steroids.

So the best way, financially and otherwise, to ward off steroid use among teen athletes is probably through parents and coaches -- and the old-fashioned approach that Arlington County physical education teacher Rocky Belk and Arlington physician Ben Pearl took last week.

They met with about 60 high school students from Sheila Napala's physical therapy and sports medicine classes at the Arlington Career Center to discuss steroids and the 2008 documentary the students had watched, "Bigger Stronger Faster*."

"We heard a lot about Barry Bonds and baseball players through [the congressional hearings], but we found that [steroid use] really has to do with wanting to be somebody special," Pearl said of his research. "A lot of us are trying to get somewhere because we're not happy with ourselves. We're not comfortable in our own skin, being what we are."

When Pearl asked how many students had used steroids or would admit to using them, no hands went up. But if the three athletes whom Varsity spoke to after the presentation are any indication, steroids are a prevalent topic.

Yorktown senior Kevin Cooper, a cornerback and special teamer, said he has thought about taking steroids, often while scraping his 5-foot-7, 145-pound frame off the football field. At the same time, he said, he considers steroids "stupid," a "last resort" and tantamount to cheating.

"I'm one of the small kids who goes to the weight room but is still small and scrawny," said Cooper, who also runs indoor track and plays lacrosse. "I've been in situations where I've been leveled by big guys . . . who got the football gene better than what I did. At times I've thought, 'Man, what if I was bigger and stronger and taller?' I've always wondered how better I would be of an athlete."

When Pearl asked whether any of the students had taken other performance enhancers, several arms went up. Wakefield senior defensive end Curtis Smith said that he had used creatine supplements, over-the-counter products known for building muscle, between his freshman and sophomore years. "I wanted to become bigger for football and wrestling," he said.

The 5-10, 160-pound Smith later said in an interview that a relative who had used steroids steered him away from them and also from more widely accepted (but often unregulated) supplements.

Washington-Lee junior volleyball player Elizabeth Delery said that before a freshman match two years ago, an opposing coach, questioning Delery's 5-foot-11 frame, told an official something along the lines of: She's not a ninth-grader. There's no way she can be on this team. She's on steroids.

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