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									Signals missed - or ignored
Coaches often unaware of doping; some fear consequences of exposure

Staff Writers

In some high school locker rooms, steroid use is an open secret among athletes.

 Chris Walls, a starting offensive lineman on Plano Senior High School's 2003 football
team, said some players on his team used the banned muscle-building drugs.

 A Colleyville Heritage High School athlete said at least 12 varsity and junior varsity
football players have used steroids - an assertion given extra weight last week when
Grapevine-Colleyville school district officials revealed to The Dallas Morning News that
nine athletes had admitted using steroids.

Former Plano West High School baseball player Mark Gomez, an admitted steroid user,
said three other junior varsity players also took steroids during the 2003 season, and he
suspects others.

Do coaches know or even suspect what's going on? Are they encouraging steroid use?

 A four-month investigation by The News found no evidence that coaches sanction
steroids. But athletes, parents and coaches told The News that some coaches are
looking the other way or failing to act on suspicions.

 And some parents are doing likewise, coaches said, perhaps blinded by the prospect of
college scholarships and athletic fame for their children.

In the hypercompetitive world of high school sports, coaches fear the price of speaking
out - the loss of a key player, angry and sometimes vindictive parents, or a scandal that
could derail a career.

 "You're not going to find a head coach who will admit they have a kid on steroids," said
Mike Long, the newly appointed football coach at John Paul II High School in Plano and an
admitted former steroid abuser who now crusades against the drugs. "Number one, you
have to admit there's a problem in your program, and that's an embarrassment. A huge

 Those factors are magnified by "unbelievable" pressures to win, added Mr. Long, who
has also been a head coach in Aubrey and Archer City and at Bryan Adams High School
in Dallas. He was an assistant at Keller Fossil Ridge when he was hired at John Paul II,
which is scheduled to open in August.

While at Archer City, Mr. Long said, he was convinced that a player was using steroids.
But when he tried to handle the situation privately by going to the player's father, the
parent challenged him to a fight.

Difficult to acknowledge

After weathering a steroid scandal in his program, Bobby Barnes, head football coach at
Buckeye Union High School in Buckeye, Ariz., has a new appreciation for coaches'
uneasiness about suspected steroid use.

 "Let's face it: [Coaches] don't want to know that any of their kids are using it because
they don't want to lose or have to deal with it," he said. "And I'll be honest with you - I'm
not too sure how protected coaches are when they make an accusation."

Mr. Barnes said he didn't suspect anything before one mother discovered her son using
steroids in the fall of 2003. Under orders from school officials to get ans wers, Mr. Barnes
questioned his players one by one over nearly five hours. Ten admitted using steroids
and were suspended from the team. An eleventh player already had quit the team.

 During his interrogations, Mr. Barnes learned that two players had been using steroids
for more than three years. Another had injected himself just once.

 Anabolic steroids can cause liver damage, tumors, depression and other side effects.
They are illegal to possess without a doctor's prescription.

 "There are ridiculous pressures being channeled down through college and through high
school," Mr. Barnes said. Most of it is applied by parents, he said.

 Mr. Barnes said his biggest surprise was that some parents were upset because he
questioned players without them present. He said two or three would still like to see him

 Even when coaches do find steroid use, they sometimes stop investigating too soon, Mr.
Barnes said. He said he was aware of a few teams that had one or two players who
were discovered using steroids. "If they had pushed, they would have found numbers"
like those at Buckeye and Heritage, he said.

 More than a year later, Mr. Barnes is striving to rebuild his team and restore his school's
reputation. "For us, it's already been out in the open, so we can be very open about the
whole thing," he said. "We're probably the cleanest high school program in America right

But until a problem is exposed, some coaches resist acknowledging any hint of one.

 In November, Colleyville Heritage football coach Chris Cunningham denied in an interview
that football players were using steroids. Soon after that, as rumors of The News'
investigation circulated through the team, campus officials began asking athletes about
steroid use. Ultimately, nine confessed to having used steroids. The News on Sunday
published an in-depth look at steroid use by Heritage athletes.

"If we can tell someone is on them,
the coaches should be able to tell, too "
— Patrick Anderson, former Plano Senior High athlete

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD officials said they plan to discuss whether to begin a steroids
testing program.
And Mr. Cunningham has asked the Plano-based Taylor Hooton Foundation to hold a
steroids-education seminar at Heritage.

The foundation was formed by the family of a Plano West baseball player who had
steroids in his system when he committed suicide in July 2003. Taylor's father, Don
Hooton, believes his son's suicide resulted from steroid-related depression.

Mr. Hooton, who has spoken about steroids around the country at seminars and
government hearings, said he has tried unsuccessfully to convince Plano coaches and
school officials that their schools have a steroid problem.

The reluctance of some coaches even to discuss the subject of high school steroid use
was illustrated when The News contacted Chris Pawlak, an assistant football coach at
Frisco Centennial High School. Mr. Pawlak was Taylor Hooton's baseball coach at
Shepton High School in Plano the year before Taylor started using steroids.

He initially agreed to an interview, responding by e-mail: "I would love to help you out."

 But by the next day, Mr. Pawlak had second thoughts. "This topic is very touchy and I do
not want to in any means be associated with any negative type of information," he w rote
in another e-mail.

Mr. Pawlak ultimately refused to be interviewed.

In the know

 Charles Yesalis of Penn State University has heard the denials and seen the reluctance
to discuss steroid use. A former strength and conditioning coach, he pioneered research
into high school steroid use in the late 1980s. His first study, published in 1988, said
500,000 American adolescents had used steroids. "I think it's gotten far worse," he said.

Coaches, parents and school administrators are in denial when they suggest that high
school steroid use is rare, Dr. Yesalis said.

"It's always somebody else's kid," he said. "It's always somebody else's school."

 Among the surveys and studies documenting steroid use, the last quadrennial NCAA
survey of college athletes, in 2001, contained a stunning statistic: 20.7 percent of steroid
users said they were "certain" that their coaches knew they were using the banned
drugs. In that same survey, 41.8 percent of steroid users said they began using steroids
in high school, up from 25 percent in the 1997 survey.

 At Plano Senior High, former hurdler Patrick Anderson, a 2004 graduate, said that
athletes knew who was using steroids but that coaches never confronted the issue.

 "I'm sure they knew it, but they never said anything at all," he said. "If we can tell
someone is on them, the coaches should be able to tell, too."

 Mr. Walls, the former Plano Senior High football player, agreed. He said he was angry
that a few athletes were able to get away with cheating.

"The coaches are just as smart as I am," said Mr. Walls, who added that he wonders
whether a coach would make top players sit out if he knew they were using steroids.
 "I'm going to say they did know," he said. "If they didn't know, they shouldn't be coaching

 Mr. Walls, who estimates that "five to 10" athletes - mostly football players - at Plano
Senior High and Plano West were using steroids, quit football in the 11th grade. He
rejoined the Plano Senior High team as a senior, earning honorable mention all-district
honors. He now plays at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Mr. Anderson quit football after his sophomore year but kept running track. He now
attends Oklahoma State University.

 Asked about the athletes' comments, Plano Senior High football coach and athletic
director Gerald Brence said: "I don't really want to get into any of the kids. If they say
they knew, that's one thing. I certainly didn't know anything about it."

Mr. Brence said there is a big difference between knowing and suspecting someone is
using steroids. He said he and his coaches warn athletes regularly about steroids.

Marc Elasmar, a former Plano West football player, gives coaches the benefit of the

 "A lot of stuff that goes on in school is separate from football," said Mr. Elasmar, who
added that he knew of a few teammates and other athletes using steroids. "The coaches
are almost in their office all day. A coach might know if something falls into his lap.
Actually, one time the coaches told us that if they ever thought someone was on
steroids, they would be kicked off the team."

Mr. Elasmar, a freshman football player at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said steroid
use at Plano West decreased after Taylor Hooton's death.

'I've got to have proof'

 Asked about Mr. Elasmar's comments, Plano West football coach and athletic director
Mike Hughes said: "I have no knowledge of any steroid use at Plano West." He said that
he would handle any problem that came to his attention but that he needed more than

 "For me to deal with something, I've got to have proof and have specific knowledge
about what happened," Mr. Hughes said.

Plano ISD superintendent Doug Otto said the district's coaches do watch for indicators of
steroid use, but that the signs are not always obvious.

Athletes say their suspicions are based on more than hearsay.

Mr. Walls noticed unnatural performance gains in the weight room. "These kids were
gaining 75 pounds on their bench press in a month or so," he said. He also noticed acne
and depression among the same people. Mr. Walls said he worked out three times a day
during the summer and only increased his bench press by 50 pounds.

Mr. Elasmar said one player told him that he was using steroids. Others, when asked,
wouldn't deny it, he said. Mr. Anderson said that only Taylor Hooton, a friend from
summer baseball, talked to him openly about steroid use. But he said it was "common
knowledge" that other students were using steroids.

 Blake Boydston , who was fired as Plano West baseball coach after last season, said
he never suspected steroid use among his players, including Taylor Hooton. But he said
that players can tell whether a teammate is using steroids and that former player Mark
Gomez is "possibly" right about steroid use on the JV team.

 "The kids know who is and who's not," said Mr. Boydston, who teaches elementary
school physical education in Plano ISD.

He said parents as well as coaches have a responsibility to monitor youths. "If
something has been going on for so long, how come Mom and Dad didn't know?" Mr.
Boydston said.

 Ultimately, he said, coaches are put in a tough spot when they must decide whether to
investigate suspicions and administer punishment.

"But if all of a sudden I start accusing every one of my kids of doing something illegal, it's
my ass that's on the line because all the parents are after me," Mr. Boydston said.

 Larry McBroom, football coach at Mount Pleasant High, has been coaching for 25 years
in Texas and Oklahoma. He said legal and privacy issues make it more difficult to confront
a player with suspicions of steroid use or other problems today than when he got into the
business in the late 1970s.

"Without hard, hard facts, you certainly can't do it," he said.

 Legal concerns aside, many coaches said they're confident they can spot steroid use
among their athletes, even without testing.

Mr. Long, the football coach and former steroid abuser, said the signs are pretty
obvious. He ticked off the clues: rapid weight and strength gain, bad acne, extreme mood
s wings. Mr. Long also said he can smell steroid use in an athlete's s weat - a kind of sour

Mr. Barnes, the Buckeye Union coach, said that if steroid use is widespread, coaches
should at least have an idea of what's happening. But if a handful of athletes in a
program with 100 or more boys are using, "it's going to be hard to tell," especially with
kids who are lifting weights and stuffing themselves with nutritional supplements.

Not all athletes using steroids will develop acne or erupt in "'roid rages."

 Mr. Barnes said he was blindsided by his team's steroid problem. In part, he blames the
fact that he was new to the school and hadn't witnessed the weight and strength gains
his players made after using steroids. But other indicators weren't there either, he said.

 "Some of these signs that people talk about, the breaking out of the skin and all these
other things - none of our kids did any of that," Mr. Barnes said. "They reeled off 10 signs
in the paper that you should be able to see, and hardly any of them held true with any of
our kids."

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