Education

Miami-Dade School System's Latest Problem: Steroid Use?

by | August 7, 2014

By Christina Veiga and Manny Navarro

A day after Biogenesis founder Antonio Bosch admitted to providing steroids to -- among others -- high school athletes, the Miami-Dade School Board announced its commitment to start a testing program. The steroid testing will be a pilot program and will get under way during the coming school year, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Wednesday.

Carvalho said the school district will allocate about $73,000 for the program the first year, to be implemented by a vendor as yet to be selected. Since the cost of analyzing a test is more than $50, that won't pay for a lot of testing. Carvalho hopes to supplement that amount by getting private sponsors.

Whatever the scope, it could discourage steroid use, the superintendent hopes -- the theory being that any testing will act as a deterrent.

In designing a testing program, an athletic body must decide how often to test, for what substances and whether testing will be random, "suspicion-based" or some combination of the two.

"We're going to sensitize the parents, the students, the coaches to this issue very aggressively," Carvalho said.

Nadine Drew, a spokeswoman with the Broward School district, said Broward has no plans to implement a testing program at this time. Bosch, who masqueraded as a licensed doctor, and several associates were formally charged Tuesday with illegal drug distribution, the latest twist in a doping scandal that began a year and a half ago when an employee leaked Bosch's client list to the Miami New Times, which published a story.

Along with several major-league ballplayers, including former Most Valuable Players Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, the client list named a smattering of South Florida high school athletes.

Although the presence of those high schoolers had previously been reported, the reality of the schools' steroid problem hit home Tuesday when prosecutors submitted a sworn statement, signed by Bosch, spelling out how underage athletes were recruited. He admitted providing performance-enhancing drugs to 18 boys, ages 15 to 17.

The same day, the school district sent out a news release saying a "feasibility study" on testing, requested by board member Raquel Regalado, had been completed.

After the Biogenesis story broke last year, the state's governing body for high school sports made two moves to address the perception that steroids were infecting the prep playing field. The Florida High School Athletic Association passed two bylaws -- one calling for suspending from competition student athletes who use human growth hormone, steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, the other providing for the suspension of any coach or school representative who facilitates or condones such behavior. Both bylaws went into effect July 1.

The FSHAA has not prescribed any sort of statewide testing program, however, making it unclear how cheaters might get caught. Executive Director Roger Dearing said the principals and athletic directors of every high school from Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties will meet at Doral Academy on Friday to discuss the FHSAA's new policies.

Dearing said to his knowledge there are perhaps six school districts statewide -- Polk County and Indian River County among them -- that currently do random testing. Dearing said the counties in Florida that test for PEDs do so through urine samples, not blood tests.

The cost is somewhere between $63 and $87 for each sample to be analyzed, Dearing said.

"That's awfully expensive," he said.

Depending on how they are designed, testing programs can either be effective or ineffective at catching cheaters.

Although Major League Baseball suspended more than a dozen ballplayers in connection with the Biogenesis scandal, most were not caught by the sport's testing program. They were banned based on their appearance on Bosch's client list.

In 2007-08, the Florida Legislature adopted a steroid testing pilot program, which involved 600 random tests across five sports and 53 schools.

The result: One athlete tested positive.

Human growth hormone, or HGH, presents its own unique challenges because it can be undetectable using standard steroid tests. Finding users of HGH is tough for even the experts who handle the testing duties in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

The NCAA conducts random, unannounced drug tests in college athletics, but players say they usually receive two-days' notice, and that has been more than enough time to develop a routine to produce a clean test.

Dearing said that while the FHSAA can serve as a watchdog, it ultimately relies on school districts and school principals to go after the rule breakers.

"Ninety percent of our reports come in anonymously," Dearing said. "When we get that, we send it to the school principal and athletic director. State statutes give school principals the right -- if there is a reasonable suspicion that illegal drugs are being used -- to demand that student-athlete get tested.

"The school doesn't have to pay for the test. They can call the parent and say this guy isn't going to play football anymore until we get a clean drug test to us."

In addition to deterring users, Carvalho said he hopes to ultimately go after the providers and enablers.

"There's always an adult culprit behind these issues and I think that's the line that ought to be explored," he said.

Bosch told prosecutors that former University of Miami pitching coach Lazer Collazo, who for the past few years has served as an instructor at Miami-based Hardball Baseball Academy, had helped recruit high school athletes to the clinic.

Collazo's attorney, John Ruiz, denied his client had done anything of the kind.

Carvalho said he envisions a lottery process to determine the day, week, school and classroom that will be picked to be tested.

"The key here is a respectful, random selection applicable to all sports so that there isn't a sampling of students that is targeted above anyone else," he said.

"It ought to be a level playing field for all schools regardless of Zip code because this is something that can impact any child," Carvalho added.

(c)2014 The Miami Herald

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