Student Well-Being

Steroid-Testing Plans in Texas and Illinois Are Moving Forward

By Katie Ash — January 17, 2008 4 min read
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Both Texas and Illinois took significant steps this week toward starting statewide steroid-testing programs for student-athletes, and some experts predict other states will be watching those efforts closely.

Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott approved his state’s steroid-testing protocol, developed by the Austin-based University Interscholastic League, or UIT, on Jan. 14—the same day that the Illinois High School Association’s board of directors approved a proposal to implement a testing program for that state’s high school athletes.

The flurry of activity occurred as a congressional committee began holding hearings to follow up an investigation of illegal steroid use in Major League Baseball that specifically identified players, such as star pitcher Roger Clemens, as having allegedly used steroids. Mr. Clemens has denied such accusations.

The findings of the investigation have prompted some state high school associations, which oversee sports programs, to review their own steroid-testing policies.

“A lot of states are watching [high school steroid-testing programs] with a keen interest to see how it goes and what’s going to be in the best interest for … their state,” said Bob Colgate, an assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, or NFHS, the Indianapolis- based umbrella organization for high school sports.

“[These programs] are paving the way for other state associations if they head in that direction,” he added.

The recently approved program in Texas is the most comprehensive statewide steroid-testing program in the nation, experts say. It will test 2 percent to 3 percent of the state’s roughly 750,000 high school athletes, or about 15,000 to 22,500 students, multiple times throughout the school year. The UIT, which is in charge of carrying out the program, crafted the rules with input from the Texas Education Agency and the University of Texas’ office of general counsel.

“We created this protocol from the ground up, because the two existing high school testing programs are completely different from ours,” said Kim Rogers, the director of public information for the UIT, referring to steroid-testing programs in Florida and New Jersey.

Texas’ program is the only one that could possibly test any athlete at any time of the school year, Ms. Rogers pointed out.

The testing company will randomly select 30 percent—or roughly 400—of Texas’ high schools to provide a comprehensive list of all student-athletes, from which athletes will be randomly selected to undergo the test.

If a test is positive, the athlete will be suspended from the playing field for 30 days, after which he or she must pass an “exit” test before resuming participation. If the exit test detects a different chemical or an elevated level of the steroid, the student will face a one-year suspension from school athletics.

A third failed test will result in a permanent suspension from high school sports.

Students may appeal the test results if they have a medical exception or if they believe the positive result was caused by a procedural error, said Ms. Rogers, although athletes will remain ineligible to play while their appeals are pending.

Steroids are synthetic forms of the male hormone testosterone and are often used to increase strength and bulk. The side effects can include mood swings, insomnia, paranoia, addiction, and depression, and they can put users at an increased risk for health complications later in life, according to the NFHS.

New Jersey a Model

Fourteen vendors have submitted bids for Texas’ two-year, $6 million steroid-testing contract, including the Kansas City, Mo.-based National Center for Drug Free Sport, which performs steroid testing for the Florida and New Jersey programs.

Once the vendor is announced, the program will begin testing this spring.

In Illinois, meanwhile, the board of directors for the Bloomington-based Illinois High School Association, or IHSA, voted to move forward with the testing program for performance-enhancing drugs outlined to its 765 member schools last fall. The testing is set to begin during the 2008-09 school year.

The Illinois testing program would be much smaller in scope, however, than what Texas is planning to do. It would only test high school student-athletes from certain sports during state tournament play.

The IHSA’s sports-medicine advisory committee began research on steroid testing three years ago, and Illinois is the only state to craft such a program without a legislative mandate.

In designing the program, the IHSA has seen New Jersey’s testing program for performance-enhancing drugs as a model, said Kurt Gibson, an assistant executive director for IHSA, although some aspects have been tailored to Illinois’ needs. (“N.J. Steroid Testing Gets Attention in Other States,” Mar. 28, 2007.)

The IHSA will pay the whole cost of the Illinois testing, an estimated $100,000 to $150,000 a year.

The next step is to decide on a testing vendor, Mr. Gibson said.

Once the contract is final, the IHSA will decide which sports will be included, how students will be selected, and how often tests will occur. The association’s board will determine the penalties for student-athletes who test positive for steroids.

All details concerning the program are to be decided by the end of this school year, Mr. Gibson said.

Missouri Legislation

In Missouri, legislation that would establish a program similar to what is planned for Illinois was also introduced this week in the form of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Matt Bartle, a Republican.

That bill would test for other illegal substances, but focuses primarily on steroids.

“My guess is that folks out in other states are going to see how [these efforts evolve], and after another period of time, it wouldn’t surprise me if more states jump on board,” said Mr. Gibson of the IHSA.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Education Week

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