Although there is growing concern nationally over steroid use by athletes, many Washington-area high school coaches and administrators are more concerned about abuse of alcohol and recreational drugs by their players.
According to Charles Stebbins, the chemical health administrator for the National Federation of State High School Associations, surveys show a significant increase in alcohol and stimulant usage among high school athletes. Beer and marijuana still are the most popular among the high school students.
"People once thought if you involved students in athletics, they wouldn't use alcohol or drugs. That's a myth," Stebbins said. "We have found the athlete is just as involved as a regular student as far as percentages go."
Frank Park, athletic director at Spingarn and Director of Operation Sports Activities Not Drugs, said, "You get tired of walking around and smelling pot and seeing kids high all day long. Eventually, you decide it's time to do something about it.
"We believe through activities kids can have alternatives and won't mess with drugs. We realize there are kids involved in athletics using drugs. We have to educate them and show them the harm they are doing to their bodies."
"There is tremendous concern in those areas," said Claudia Dodson, programs supervisor and coordinator of chemical abuse for the Virginia High School League. "Statistics point out (that) alcohol and drug abuse has risen in the general school population, thus you must assume you have the same percentage among your athletic teams.
"Some schools (in Virginia) have reported as much as 70 to 80 percent usage among their athletes. That's really alarming."
Steroid use by college and professional athletes has been the focus of much reporting. Interviews with more than 35 Washington-area coaches, players and administrators indicated that the steroid problem has yet to filter down to the high schools on a level that would be considered a major problem.
"All the signs show there is an increase in steroid use in athletes in college through professional football, but we don't have any specific data in terms of steroid use at the high school level," said Stebbins. "We know so very little about it, we can't tell if there is an increase or if it has always been there. But it is a drug we do need to look into at this point."
Anabolic steroids are male hormone derivatives, both natural and synthetic, that change or alter the metabolism in the muscles of the body. Steroids add bulk to the body, increase strength, speed and power. Some research shows the drugs often have lingering side effects, such as kidney and liver malfunctions, hypertension, impotence in men and menstrual irregularities in women.
"I think any time you see some youngsters lifting weights and getting bigger, the rumors concerning steroids begin," said Ken Poates, football coach at W.T. Woodson. "We've had a few kids who really pump iron and work hard. I know they work hard because we watch them and can see them get bigger. I don't think it's from steroid use.
"Of course, there's no way you can prove kids use them but we don't have any evidence of any steroid use. We don't make a big deal of telling the kids not to use them because it's relatively new. Steroids is just a part of our 'don't use this and don't use that' talk. Hopefully, kids understand that and nothing else should be said."
Because steroids are relatively unknown drugs among high school students, coaches and administrators have taken a low-key approach in alerting their athletes about them. In the past few years, much of the emphasis has been placed on curtailing the use of alcohol, marijuana and drugs like heroin and cocaine.
"Right now, our state hasn't shown much in the way of steroid usage," Dodson said. "Our workshops include information about steroids but we don't separate it from the other drugs. Steroids are just a part of our entire education package."
"Sometimes you have some kids in your program who want to get bigger and they think steroid use is the way," said Bill Holsclaw, football coach at Woodbridge High School. "And many times, college kids who use steroids come back and tell the younger players that's the way to get bigger and stronger. In college, there is probably more pressure on them to use them.
"We monitor our kids very carefully here. We have a good weight training program and discourage any usage of pills to supplement diet or high protein. Maybe we haven't done enough in the area of chemical abuse.
"Right now, we aren't worried about steroid use because the problem hasn't presented itself in our athletic program."
Spingarn's Park said, "Our kids aren't quite that sophisticated to deal with steroids. I doubt if most of them know what they are. We are more concerned about the other drugs . . .
"Kids use them because of peer pressure, family problems, escaping reality or just plain boredom. Right now, this is our second year of operation (for Operation Sports Activities Not Drugs) and we've trained more than 100 kids in drug education and awareness.
"Eleven of them became peer counselors, and they go out and talk to their peers about the ills of drugs. And kids go to them with their problems. My kids actually helped five kids who talked about commiting suicide. Now three of them are counselors."
"I don't know any guys who use steroids. Some guys don't even know what they are," said Todd Wolfram, a senior at Springbrook. "I'm a quarterback, so I sure don't need them. We have other problems like beer and stuff. Most kids do that. That's one reason I'd like to see a drug testing program put in."
Mark Gowin, Gonzaga's football coach, said, "Peer pressure is hard to handle and some athletes succumb to it. Kids will read these stories about all their pro heroes being on drugs and that kind of knocks them off those pedestals. The glitter is gone when the drug problems are revealed. But I don't think we've reached the point where we need drug testing yet."
Some coaches say they would like to see a drug testing program instituted. But Stebbins said the federation has no plans to implement or encourage such a program.
"I'm not in favor of drug-testing athletes," Stebbins said. "One, it's costly; two, there are legal ramifications; and third, what happens when you get the results?
"I don't think it's a good idea at any level. If you develop a sound program with workshops, seminars, you can achieve good results."
"I'm not sure such a move is feasible at such an early age," said Jim Tillerson, Theodore Roosevelt's football coach. "But drug abuse is almost to the point where we may have to.
"If a youngster is guilty of drug abuse, dismissal (from the team) doesn't solve the problem. They need counseling. If we keep them involved, maybe we can curb some of it."