ALEXANDRIA, Va. – National Drug Policy Director Lee Brown Friday urged area coaches to begin testing high school athletes for drugs.
Brown met with a group of 17 coaches, athletic directors and administrators at Ellen Glasgow Middle School to discuss ways that they can implement drug testing programs to help fight the drug problem.
“My message to coaches and all school administrators and teachers is this: You have important tools available to you, but first you have to get off the sidelines and get into the game,” Brown said.
But telephone interviews with several area athletic directors revealed that not everyone agrees.
“I don’t think that drug testing of athletes is necessary,” said Don McGlew, athletic director at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. “I don’t think it’s fair to hold athletes to a higher standard.”
Expenses were also raised as a concern.
“I just don’t know how they would fund [drug testing],” said Gail Robinson, athletic director at Dunbar High School in Baltimore. “I also don’t really think it’s necessary. Most of our athletes are not involved in that kind of behavior.”
But all of the coaches at the meeting agreed that they must play a key role in helping keep kids stay drug-free.
“We are role models and it is important for us to realize that it is our responsibility to lead by example,” said Mike Jarvis, head basketball coach at George Washington University.
The meeting participants agreed that athletes are a good group to target because they can influence the rest of the student body.
“Athletes can be a very important component of any prevention measure,” said Mike Hall, principal at Anderson High School in Cincinnati, who came to explain how his school runs a drug testing program.
“We have 46 percent of our students involved in athletics, and many schools have well over 50 percent,” Hall said. “If you have good drug prevention for athletes, then you’ve really got something.”
John McGinniss, principal at Nimitz Middle School in Tulsa, Okla., came to speak about the success of his school’s drug testing program.
In McGinniss’ program, students who volunteer to participate in a random drug testing program receive a special identification card. The card entitles them to discounts at participating businesses.
As long as the students don’t fail a random test, they get to keep their cards and the benefits that come along with them, McGinniss said.
“The biggest problem in schools with drug prevention today is that the good kids just don’t get rewarded,” he said. “Our program rewards those kids.”
While the panel members seemed to agree that McGinniss’ plan was good in theory, several expressed concerns about costs.
“Here in D.C., we’ll catch hell if we try to do something like that,” said Frank Parks, executive director of the D.C. coaches association. “As it is, we can’t get our athletes physicals for under $50.”
McGinniss recognized that schools in big cities may face different situations than his and suggested that each school needs to work its own program out.
“No one program has the answer,” McGinniss said. “We’ve got a big problem and we need to find the key that will unlock children’s health and happiness.”
While many high schools across the country have avoided the issue of drug testing athletes for fear of legal challenges, that is expected to change following a Supreme Court decision on an Oregon case in June. In the decision, the court found by a 6-3 margin that random drug testing of high school athletes was not a violation of their rights. “President Clinton and I remain encouraged by this opportunity,” Brown said. “We encourage school districts to employ this new tool when circumstances warrant with the support of the community.” -30-