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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Genoa plans drug testing for athletes

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Genoa Board of Education plans to join the ranks of schools that require mandatory and random drug testing for athletes - starting with its middle school students.

The board intends to have the new policy in place by September. Seventh and eighth-grade pupils who participate in sports would be subject to testing.

Ernie Cottrell, school board vice president, said the initiative is meant to prevent drug, alcohol, and tobacco use.

“We have had several meetings with parents in the community and everyone is in favor of testing,” he said. “Our hopes are that if there is a problem, that it gets caught before it becomes a major problem.”

The policy is similar to those in place at Lake High School and Clay High School in Oregon, Mr. Cottrell said. Genoa would be testing middle school pupils because children often begin experimenting before high school, he said.

Under the policy, athletes would be tested at the beginning of the season and 20 percent would face random testing throughout the season.

The cost of the drug screen will be paid by parents. It is estimated to cost $15 per pupil per sport.

“Student-athletes are in a highly visible setting of leadership and/or competition performance,” the proposed policy states. “Therefore these student-athletes will be held to a higher accountability of conduct and behavior than the student who chooses neither to participate nor to represent Genoa Area Local Schools.”

A first positive test would result in the student not playing a minimum of 20 percent of the season; loss of any leadership position in athletic activities for the remainder of the school year, and would require meeting with a certified chemical dependency counselor.

A second positive test would mean the athlete is denied participation in any sport for one calendar year and would continue meeting with a certified chemical dependency counselor. If the student tests positive a third time, the athlete would be permanently denied participation in sports.

Refusing to take the urine test, which would be administered by Great Lakes Biomedical in Perrysburg, would count against the student as a positive result, the policy states.

Bill Hrabak, Genoa High School varsity football coach, said the policy would act as a deterrent. Testing students in grades seven and eight prevents drug use later on, he said.

“I think the problem most likely begins at that age, so I think it's wise to do that. If the kid does make a mistake, you are not costing him any varsity time because he understands the school is not going to play around,” he said. “Peer pressure is a tough thing, and when they go to a party and someone asks them to try [drugs], it gives them a perfect out.”

Lake Local Schools' policy became the first system in Northwest Ohio to implement drug testing for athletes and cheerleaders in the fall of 1997. Since then, a number of other schools in the area have adopted similar policies.

Two Northwest Ohio districts have policies for drug-testing students involved in extra-curricular activities. North Baltimore Local Schools in Wood County has tested students in competitive activities for more than three years. Otsego Local Schools, ranging over parts of Wood, Lucas, and Henry counties, approved random testing of students in extracurricular activities last year.

The Oregon Board of Education is evaluating its 6-year-old random drug-testing policy for Clay High School athletes. The school tests more than 300 athlete-students each year. Last year, three students tested positive, and five the prior year.

Drug-testing became a much-discussed issue in local school districts after a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case originating in Vernonia, Ore. The court upheld the high school's mandatory drug-testing program for athletes.

In 1998, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found it was legal for a public high school in Indiana to require students who participate in any extracurricular activity as well as those who drive to school to consent to random urinalysis tests.



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