ROBBINSVILLE – While the Olympics, professional baseball, and other high-profile sporting institutions struggle against the specter of performance-enhancing drugs, New Jersey’s high school student athletes are enjoying ongoing protection against steroid abuse thanks to a first-of-its-kind testing initiative. And now, the sponsor organization is looking ahead to even greater success in the future.
“We had a total of four positive tests this past year – the most in our program’s five-year-history,” explains Steven J. Timko, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). “This means our testing protocols are effective and, most importantly, we’re playing a key role in stopping students who are heading down a dangerous path with performance enhancing drugs.”
The program began in June 2006, when the NJSIAA – the non-profit group representing the best interests of more than 250,000 student athletes from 433 accredited public, private, and parochial high schools – implemented a sweeping program that made New Jersey the very first state with a comprehensive steroid testing policy for athletes at the high school level.
Under the program, and in partnership with the association, the state annually provides $50,000 to help reimburse the cost of testing. The NJSIAA – which also contributes $50,000 to the program annually – is next slated to receive the state funds in June 2012, as reimbursement for testing during the upcoming 2011-2012 season. This money represents the state’s sole payment to the association, which is independent.
Currently, the NJSIAA’s steroid testing efforts are restricted to championship tournaments. Timko, however, can envision the possibility of expanding its scope.
“There’s certainly merit to testing year-round, rather than only during tournaments – primarily that it would expose more student athletes and more schools to testing,” he says. “The challenge to this, of course, would be a distinct increase in costs.”
Under the current NJSIAA program, every student athlete from an association member school – plus one parent or guardian – must sign a consent form agreeing to random testing. Otherwise, they are ineligible to compete. And any student who tests positive for steroids or other banned substances included on a list patterned after the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) list will automatically forfeit one year of athletic eligibility.
In 2010-2011, the association conducted 492 tests on athletes from 86 different member schools – with more than half being focused on student athletes in sports in which steroid use is most prevalent. These include football, wrestling, swimming, and lacrosse. The cost per test is approximately $200.
“Our association’s new slogan is ‘Protecting, Promoting, and Providing for our high school student athletes,’ and successful steroid testing exemplifies our commitment to protection,” Timko says. “The potential repercussions of abusing anabolic steroids and similar drugs – from fatal health issues, to unfair competition – are terrible. We’ve worked for the benefit of student athletes for nearly a century, and at this point in time there’s nothing we can do that’s more vital.”
The urinalysis test used by the NJSIAA can identify more than 80 banned substances. Athletes randomly designated for testing are selected by the National Center for Drug-Free Sport computer system. The tests themselves are analyzed by the University of California, Los Angeles Olympic Analytical Laboratory.
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