Testing high school athletes for drugs not expected in Maryland


A Supreme Court ruling Monday allows public high schools to institute drug testing for athletes, but don't expect testing soon in Maryland, state athletic officials said yesterday.

"It's an isolated case in Oregon. Doesn't change much," said Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

Yet news of the ruling scarcely had circulated yesterday, MPSSAA president Ron Belinko said, before his office was flooded with calls.

"I got hit with all kinds of questions from the media, but the bottom line is we're not going to go running out and start drug-testing kids tomorrow," Belinko said of the ruling, which makes no mention of alcohol testing and applies only to student-athletes.

"You won't have to take tests for English class, band or the school play. We'd be singling out athletes."

Old Mill wrestling coach Mike Hampe agreed.

"Like the 2.0 average, I don't agree that it should be limited to athletes," said Hampe. "With all due respect, while no one's going to suspect the Thespians or the piccolo or tuba player of using steroids, what about other illegal drugs?"

Hammond football coach Joe Russo favors drug testing, having initiated an unsuccessful drive for random testing in Howard County in 1990.

"I know there were county kids who were shooting [steroids]. They were getting too big, too fast," said Russo. "I feel I made kids aware of the dangers, and I think it calmed down. I favored drug testing the urine then as I do now."

But "cost is prohibitive," said Sparks, estimating a comprehensive testing process in Maryland could cost "around $75 per person."

"I think it's important to point out that no school system in Maryland, nor any around the country, seems to be knocking down the doors with a desire to do it," Sparks said.

"Are we going to shut kids out of things that keep them off the streets? I just don't see it as a viable option."

Any action would not come at the state level, Belinko said, but "more likely from each county or district as part of their eligibility requirements, hopefully as a last resort if a widespread problem was detected."

Mount St. Joseph graduate Danny DeVivo, an All-America wrestler who is going to Harvard, disagrees with the ruling.

"I can see it on the professional level, because that's a job you're getting paid to do," DeVivo said. "To do it on the high school level, I think, is an invasion of privacy. It's something that's just going to discourage a lot of youths' involvement in athletics, which is something we don't need."

Having competed internationally, DeVivo has seen and competed against his share of athletes with herculean strength and appearances.

"When I went out to Germany for the Freestyle Worlds, there were guys who were supposed to be cadets [15 to 16 years old]. When I saw them, I was like, 'Whoa,' " said DeVivo, a two-time Baltimore Sun All-Metro Wrestler of the Year. "I thought maybe it was faulty birth records or a good training program, but never steroids.

"I've suspected recreational drug use among high school athletes, but I haven't been around anyone I thought succeeded because of performance-enhancing drugs."

Patterson athletic director Roger Wrenn said: "It seems high school athletes are always having to defend themselves against a certain stigma that is undeserved. This is just another one."

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