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California Sets Steroid Rules

SACRAMENTO, CA — California high school officials are getting serious about steroids. Three new regulations, the first to be passed by a U.S. high school sports organization, require parents, players and school officials to sign contracts promising that athletes won't use steroids. They also regulate what dietary supplements coaches can give to athletes and require them to earn a certification that includes material on steroid abuse.

“The numbers [of students taking steroids] are growing, and the studies are finding that a lot of the youth are not just using them for athletic performance. There's a vanity element to it,” said Emmy Zack, director of communications for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF). “They don't realize the risks they're putting their body at to have that physical appearance.”

The new rules, passed by the CIF in mid-May, will take effect this fall, although coaches have until 2008 to obtain the certification. The CIF is a governing body for more than 99 percent of the 1,400 or so high schools in California. Individual school districts are in charge of enforcing the regulations although the CIF can jump enforcing the regulations although the CIF can jump in with penalties if they hear of repeat offenses.

The CIF decided that testing students for drugs wasn't fiscally feasible since tests cost $75 to $100 each.

“The approach we're taking is the educational approach,” Zack said. “Let's teach the students and parents and coaches what the dangers are.”

In April, the CIF mailed educational CDs to California high school administrators. The CIF will issue the CDs regularly to give schools up-to-date information about new steroid lingo and different types of steroids on the market. The CD contains a PowerPoint presentation and facilitator notes so that a school district can easily give presentations about steroids to their coaches, parents and students.

Although not perfect, the regulations show progress, said Dr. Linn Goldberg, head of the sports medicine division at the Oregon Health and Science University and an expert in steroid education.

“Coaches are fairly clueless about supplements and steroids,” Goldberg said. “We found that 15-year-old athletes had as much or more knowledge about steroids than the coaches, who had an average of 15 years of experience. So, I think it's a step in the right direction.”

The educational certification has been offered to coaches for quite some time, but the new regulations require them to attend an eight-hour class, which includes information from hazing to sexual harassment to first aid to steroids and supplements. Zack said some coaches were giving their athletes supplements, a practice that is now against CIF bylaws.

“We know coaches and other school personnel are telling [student athletes] to get bigger, but they're not giving them any instruction on how to do it, and they're giving them supplements to do it. That's not right,” Zack said. “We want to help educate them on what they should be doing. There are many alternatives to achieve that goal.”

The new regulations have attracted quite a bit of attention. Since last May, several state organizations and state legislatures have contacted Zack to find out more about the CIF's policies and what states can do.

In addition, the Committee on Government Reform passed the Clean Sports Act of 2005, which was created to strengthen the testing procedures and toughen penalties for the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional American sports. The bill also established a commission to report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs by high school and college athletes and to provide recommendations for reducing their usage.

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