By Dennis Sean O’Brien
WASHINGTON – The majority of Marylanders support mandatory random drug testing of high school students, according to a University of Maryland Research Center poll.
Of 1,002 people asked, 76 percent said all high school athletes should be tested for drugs. Sixty-one percent said all students should be tested, according to the poll, conducted between Oct. 30 and Dec. 31.
The constitutionality of randomly testing all students is unclear. But the Supreme Court decided in June 1995 that schools can randomly test student athletes.
No schools in Maryland conduct random drug testing, said Linda Schiffer, a special assistant in the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention.
While the idea of testing athletes may be popular with residents, some school officials said random drug testing is too expensive and unnecessary.
“Student athletes are the least likely, as a group, to be involved with drugs,” said Donald McGlew, the athletic director of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt.
McGlew, 48, of Annapolis, also coaches girls’ basketball. He said if an athlete was using drugs, coaches would know.
With about 2,900 students, Eleanor Roosevelt’s student population is the largest in the state. The school supports about 500-600 student athletes a season, McGlew said.
Sports programs at the high school already have tight budgets, McGlew said. Even if the cost of testing did not come from sports departments, the money could be better spent elsewhere, he said.
“My average class size now is 34 students. If we had drug testing, it would probably go up to 36,” said McGlew, an English teacher. “It’s just throwing money at the problem.”
Tests for illegal drugs cost the Veronia School District in Oregon – which won the 1995 Supreme Court case – $13.50 a student, said Barbara Ervin, a school district staffer.
The Oregon district began testing all junior and senior high school athletes at the beginning of their sports seasons in 1989, Ervin said. Ten percent of them are tested at random each week for the duration of the season, she said.
She said the testing has been effective in reducing drug use.
The Maryland governor’s office recognizes drug use by athletes could increase their risk of injury, Schiffer said. But, she added, random drug testing is a local issue to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Jahmal Corley, 18, a track and field standout from Largo, is considered by many to be Eleanor Roosevelt’s best athlete. He said he supports testing athletes, not just to search for marijuana or other drugs, but for drugs like steroids.
“I think athletes should be tested, because some athletes use performance enhancers and it’s not fair to the guys who do it the right way,” Corley said.
His classmate, Marquis Wright, a power forward for the Raiders’ basketball team, agreed.
“If you can’t play without using drugs, then you don’t need to be a player,” said Wright, 16, of Greenbelt.
Some coaches and athletes said they do not like the idea of singling athletes out for testing.
“It’s not really fair to just test the athletes,” said Bill Hunter, coach of the girls’ softball team at Eleanor Roosevelt.
“If you’re going to test the athletes, then you probably should test everybody else,” said Hunter, 44, a business teacher from Hyattsville.
“I’d refuse unless the whole school was tested,” said 17- year-old Ryan Green, a pitcher for Gaithersburg High School’s varsity baseball team.
Green, of Gaithersburg, said he thinks if athletes have to be tested, they should only test for steroids, not other illegal drugs. “It won’t affect performance,” he said of the other drugs.
He said if athletes are caught using drugs they should be disciplined by their coaches. Gaithersburg players have to sign a contract promising not to drink, smoke or do drugs during the season.
Student athletes who get caught violating the contract could have to sit the rest of the season out.
Gaithersburg’s baseball coach, Paul Kane, said there should be probable cause for school drug testing. “Random testing, at this age?” he asked incredulously.
Kane, 47, of Gaithersburg, added he is not convinced it is the school’s responsibility to do drug testing. “If a parent thinks their child is on drugs they should take that child for a drug test,” the history teacher said.
Laura Davis, 18, a senior fullback for Gaithersburg’s girls’ soccer team, said drug use is rare among athletes at her school.
“If you’re a serious athlete, you’re not going to be using drugs,” Davis said. “And at Gaithersburg, if you’re not an athlete, you’re nothing.” The poll of Maryland adults was conducted for the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland at College Park. Polls on drug-related issues are conducted annually, but this is the first year the question of testing student athletes has been addressed, said Maggie Hsu, a researcher for the group. -30-