Sports drug testing likely to fail the objective: responsible teens

Drug testing of athletes isn’t new, but it is to Sweet Home.

The School Board last May approved a new policy requiring all athletes participating in sports at the high school to be tested for drug use. Actual testing began last week, as we report on page 1.

Before going any further, we want to make it clear that we deplore the use of drugs for recreational, non-medical purposes. Simple as that. Drugs are bad.

But this policy, which was approved amid elections, budget meetings and a lot of other “hot” news that diverted our editorial focus, nonetheless bothered us then and concerns us now.

We simply wonder if testing high school kids for drugs is the best way to turn them into responsible, productive citizens who will make us all proud and who will contribute to the growth and stability of our community 15 or 20 years from now. Isn’t that what we really want?

Is the $3,000 this program is costing going to give us that?

There’s no question that drugs are a problem in our schools.

Teachers and students regularly witness teens who come to class (or don’t) high on illicit substances. Use of marijuana by teens, which is still illegal, appears to be nearly double what it was a year ago, based on allegations and referrals, county Juvenile Department Director Torri Lynn told county commissioners in late August.

Why do kids do drugs? We don’t have space here to list the myriad societal and personal ills that prompt young people to use mind- and mood-altering substances. Some are obvious: poverty and associated ills; a culture increasingly focused on instant gratification; teen angst; rebellion; media and peer influences; etc.

That last has been cited by school officials and board members as a reason why drug testing is a good idea. They say that if athletes know they are going to be tested, they can cite that as an excuse not to participate when they get pressure from peers.

We get that. But then we think of the kids who have lost athletic privileges after getting busted for minor-in-possession or other infractions.

If we take away an athlete’s ability to participate in sports for the rest of the season or the rest of the year – or the rest of his or her high school career, where does that leave them? What road are they likely to take?

Sweet Home’s population – and its student body – are a mixed bag.

There are born go-getters, who are apt to stick their necks out – to get involved in sports or other healthy activities. In many cases, they have parents who are standing behind them every step of the way, encouraging and facilitating their efforts and successes.

There are the less motivated, who may feel comfortable where they are – often on their couch in front of the TV. Parental involvement may be diminished. There may not be a lot of support or incentive at home.

And then there are those who seem to have a preoccupation with doing whatever they shouldn’t be. If they even have parents or guardians at all, it’s likely not a healthy situation.

Clearly, these are generalizations, but based on years of observation and feedback from kids and teachers, we’re pretty confident this is a pretty accurate description of the cross-sections of the folks who make up Sweet Home.

Now we ask this question: How do we get these kids to become involved in activities that will help them get a taste of what life can offer? How can we help them develop commitment, responsibility, the ability to assess and take positive risks, the ability to work in a team setting and take direction?

Well, sports is not the only way to do this, not by a long shot, but it’s a good one.

Wouldn’t it be better in the long run to figure out ways to get kids involved in activities, in addition to classroom instruction, that would teach those skills?

We suggest that the School Board and school officials should consider ways to incentivize students to participate in the kind of activities that would help them develop the kinds of skills and innovation that could one day pay off in a good job.

Drug testing is at best a Band-aid solution to much deeper societal problems that, if we’re serious about addressing, let alone solving, need to be engaged at more positive and deeper levels than a coerced visit to the bathroom.