South Carolina has no plans for steroid tests

COLUMBIA-- South Carolina has no plans to join a growing number of states testing high school athletes for steroid use.

New Jersey last year became the first state to implement a steroids testing program for high school athletes.

State legislatures in Texas and Florida are following suit this year. Last month, Texas approved spending $3 million per year for testing.

Though 2005 data from the Centers for Disease Control - the latest data available -- indicates steroid use among S.C. high school students reached an all-time high, state lawmakers and school administrators said the problem has not risen to a level that requires costly testing.

"Right now, I don't see that; especially at Dillon High School, we don't have that problem," said Jackie Hayes, Dillon's athletics director and football coach. "I don't think it's an issue statewide."

Hayes holds a unique position in the discussion. In addition to his duties at Dillon, he has represented the Pee Dee community in the state House of Representatives since 1999. The Dillon Democrat also is a member of the S.C. High School League's executive committee.

Jerome Singleton, the High School League's commissioner, said the focus in South Carolina is on educating athletes about the dangers of illegal steroid use. Singleton said he realizes steroid use might be taking place, but he believes that if large numbers of athletes were doping, that fact would be brought to his attention.

"I'd rather take the proactive role of let's educate them," Singleton said. "Let's take our heads out of the sand and admit that there's a chance that it may exist. (But) I don't have a feel from the membership that an extremely high number of kids are out there using steroids. I trust our membership that they know what our kids look like."

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey show more S.C. kids have admitted experimented with steroids.

In the 2005 CDC study released last year, 6.1 percent of S.C. high school students surveyed said they had used steroids illegally at least once. That figure is the highest percentage in South Carolina since the biennial survey began in 1991. The national average is 4 percent.

The number of male respondents admitting they had used steroids was 7.3 percent.

"That causes me concern," Singleton said. "That's an interesting number. We'd be foolish to believe it doesn't exist in South Carolina."

Yet Singleton is confident the number will decrease when results of this year's survey are released next summer. He points to educational programs, including posters and DVDs aimed at informing kids about the dangers of steroids.

Erica Deahl, a standout soccer and basketball player at Lexington High, doesn't believe steroid use is widespread. But Deahl, who will play basketball at Presbyterian College this year, admits hearing of isolated use among male athletes.

""I have heard rumors of a couple people trying it," Deahl said. "But I don't think it''s a huge problem."

Though Texas (4.3) and Florida (4) had lower percentages of athletes admitting to steroid use than South Carolina, those states, along with New Jersey, have taken the lead in randomly testing high school athletes for steroids.

New Jersey conducted 150 random tests in the fall. According to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, no positive results were found.

Florida approved $100,000 for a one-year pilot program that randomly will test football, baseball and weightlifting participants. About 1 percent of the state's high school athletes will be tested.

Texas took the boldest step with its plan, which randomly will test between 22,000 and 25,000 of the state's 730,000 athletes. The penalties, approved last week by the state's University Interscholastic League, are a 30-day suspension for a first positive test, one year for a second positive and a permanent ban for a third.

Because it took legislative intervention to enact get testing programs in those states, the opinions of S.C. lawmakers are crucial.

State Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, heads the S.C. House's Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, which would take up any such legislation. While Howard said he has heard no talk of the need for testing, he is willing to discuss it.

"I would certainly take the bill up," Howard said. "I would not sit on the bill. I would take a good look at the pros and cons."

Deahl said he wouldn't have been opposed to testing during high school.

"I don't think it would hurt because it would make high school athletes scared," Deahl said. "That's not something they should be doing (taking steroids). If the money is there, then I don't think it would be bad."

Each steroid test costs about $100, meaning state funding money likely would be necessary.

Hayes said lawmakers would be prudent to show patience, letting other states work through testing plans before enacting one in South Carolina.

"One good thing about South Carolina is it seems we wait until the end to do things," Hayes said. "There has got to be a funding mechanism, or three-quarters of the state's high schools won't be able to afford it."