New steroids rules for high school sports

Mercury News

The organization that oversees high school sports in California on Friday overwhelmingly approved reforms intended to get anabolic steroids into the heads of the coaches and keep them out of the bloodstreams of 700,000 student-athletes.

Starting this fall, every one of the state's high school athletes, and their parents, must sign a contract promising the kids will not take steroids. Schools will continue to set their own punishments for offenders.

The reforms, which do not include mandatory drug testing, were approved at the California Interscholastic Federation's meeting in Irvine. CIF officials also passed a rule prohibiting promotions from companies that make muscle-building nutritional supplements, even if they are legal. And by 2008, every coach must take a class that includes steroid-abuse education.

The action is one of the ripples from the Balco Laboratories scandal, the criminal investigation of a Bay Area steroid ring for elite athletes. Other states, such as Florida, are looking at similar reforms, including testing.

``Other states are trying but we are the first to take sweeping anti-steroid proposals and move them forward,'' Roger Blake, the CIF's assistant executive director, said. ``This is a proud day for CIF and the kids of California.''

Despite some skepticism from coaches who said there were more important priorities, such as alcohol and drug abuse, the CIF board voted 129-0, with no abstentions, for the proposals.

``How do you vote against something that could lead to a kid committing suicide? How do you justify not voting for spending money on education?'' said Brad Syth, principal of Santa Clara High and president of the Central Coast Section's executive board. ``One death is too many.''

Syth was referring to Efrain Marrero and Rob Garibaldi, two California athletes who killed themselves after taking steroids.

Frank Marrero, of Vacaville, whose 19-year-old son committed suicide in September after he stopped taking the drugs, told his son's story to CIF members Friday as his wife, Brenda, wept nearby. ``I told them that this is real life, this is what happens when our youth goes down this path,'' Marrero said.

Denise Garibaldi, a Petaluma psychologist who began advocating reforms after her son, a baseball player, committed suicide in 2002, was thrilled with the votes. ``When we started talking out about this a year ago, we were hoping a few school districts would pay attention. I miss Rob terribly, but now there's something that's so precious -- his life is meaning something.''

Both families called the reforms ``a first step,'' and both advocated random testing in high schools.

State Sen. Jackie Speier, the Democrat from San Mateo who has introduced anti-steroid legislation in Sacramento, expects random drug testing to be adopted soon. She praised the CIF's action. ``They hit a grand slam,'' Speier said.

Tom Jacoubowsky, dean of students at Gunn High in Palo Alto and a CCS board member, said he was concerned about the details of the plan to educate coaches. The cost of the classes -- some of which may be subsidized by revenues from a new football championship game -- has not been determined. Still, he supports the reforms.

``It's worth it if we can stop a single kid from going down that path,'' Jacoubowsky said.

Joe Cattolico, the former Independence High football coach who is starting a program at a high school in Elk Grove, does not expect much change from Friday's vote, although he endorsed the action.

``It's kind of a smoke screen -- good politically more than anything,'' he said.

Cattolico contends that drug testing is the real answer. Former 49ers linebacker Gary Plummer, whose son is a high school football player in San Diego, agreed. ``It is so difficult for high schools to go to the next level'' in terms of testing because of the cost, he said.

Still, Plummer says it was important for the CIF to ban steroids.

``Some people could say they are already illegal, but that never enters the minds of 95 percent of the kids making that decision.''

Coach Tony Santos of Westmont High in Campbell wants more attention on supplements.

``A majority of kids aren't taking steroids, they are taking all these unregulated supplements, without supervision, taking them in combination,'' he said. ``I'd like to see supplements banned for kids under 18.''

Plummer, though, said coaches need to be reminded about steroid risks.

``They're not out there encouraging these kids to do it. They're just ignoring it.''

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