PDFNJ & Farleigh Dickinson University Study Featured in Sevierville, TN Mountain Press Newspaper


"Ask the Doc: Taking a big step to curb prep athlete drug use"
Source Website: www.themountainpress.com/pages/home
Aug. 05, 2014 @ 05:42 PM
One of my very first vivid memories of high school football was sitting in a small wooden desk in
Miss Poole's first grade classroom. She started that Friday morning introducing our guests who
were stopping by.
Two of the guests were Harriman High School senior cheerleaders in uniform accompanied by two
huge, smiling, football players wearing their actual game jerseys with jeans. They were selling
tickets to the ballgame that night and did we want to buy any? We, mere little first graders, were too
awestruck to even say a word as they smiled, thanked us, and left.
They were bigger than movie stars in our eyes, and they actually came to see us. We had the
money the next week and actually got to stand close to the cheerleaders and catch a whiff of their
perfume as they gave us our tickets. They were true celebrities. We wanted to be just like them.
It is still that way. Elementary and intermediate school children still look up to the high school
athletes, cheerleaders and band members with a sense of wonder. You can see it as the players
take the field on Friday nights when little boys stand in a line just to "give five" to the players and get
really excited if a player says anything to them. You can see it in the little girls who wear uniforms
and stand with the high school cheerleaders as they cheer. You can see it in the kids who sit close
to the band and watch as they play during the game.
I remember lying on the grass at a home football game as a senior stretching before the game
quietly thinking and enjoying the aromas of fresh cut grass, hot chocolate, popcorn and fall leaves. I
looked over to see a little boy standing with his dad at the fence watching the big high school
players who were going to battle for his city that night. The memories of being in first grade came
storming back as I remembered how I looked at them. It made me want to play better.
We sent Midway home very unhappy that night.
It makes a lasting impact how the high school players behave, smile, work, play and represent their
school and community - not just on the children watching, but most of all, the athlete.
The TSSAA governs high school athletics in Tennessee. When I played there was not much
intervention unless you really did something stupid. We got a letter for our fight after the game with
Sweetwater (lost the game, won the fight).
Now the TSSAA has taken a much larger role in managing the games and especially the safety of
the athletes. Coaches must strictly adhere to temperature and humidity readings kept during
practice instead of judging the temperature by how many players passed out that day. Concussion
management has also become a large topic of concern for the safety of the athletes, both in the
short term and long term consequences.
Concussions have been linked to unusual behaviour, poor judgement, impaired performance in
class, memory loss, emotional outburst and depression, as well as long term concerns for poor
mental function.
But so does drug usage.
A six-year study released in 2013 from The Partnership for Drug Free New Jersey showed "when
a student was randomly drug tested, those students were much less likely to abuse and to
experiment with drugs throughout their highs school careers," according to Angelo Valente,
executive director of the partnership.
New Jersey has had many districts implement drug screening as part of granting the privilege to
participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, dances, and even being allowed to park on
campus. It has proven to be a deterrent. It is a policy that was supported by the Supreme Court in
Board of Education v. Earls in 2002.
It is time for random drug screening at least once per season for every athlete under the TSSAA's
For football, a 10-game season means 10 percent of the players are randomly tested per week and
the results turned in to the officials on Friday night. The athletic directors and officials already meet
prior to each game to discuss sportsmanship. Why not add drug-free compliance?
A search of the TSSAA website for "drug screening" yields "Sorry, nothing found. Please try again
with a different keyword." The TSSAA sponsors are clearly seen, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield
of Tennessee who posted record profits in 2013. Blue Cross/Blue Shield and another sponsor,
Farmer's Insurance, might actually find it a worthy investment to financially support drug random
drug screening for TSSAA athletes in order to deter potential costs from poor choices while under
the influence.
Positive tests would involve a meeting and counseling with parents and a reduction in privileges.
Further positive tests would significantly reduce privileges. The athletes would then have a reason,
or out, to push back against peer pressure. Or a reason to avoid a party with drugs. Or a reason to
focus on the rare opportunity to compete and excel athletically and to make better choices.
Drug usage went on when I was in high school. I remember the players who were talented but when
the pressure was on to lead and perform, they couldn't handle it and hid under the apron strings of
drugs. A safety on an opposing team was much larger and stronger than me but his eyes gave him
away. His helmet was on, but no one was home. I wore him out that night when he could have
dominated me. He never got his scholarship. No college wanted to put up with him.
Drug usage goes on in every high school and the ones close to any team know about it. No school
wants to move on this issue alone, so then they should all move as one. The coaches I have talked
to across the state quietly support the idea, but they believe it should be all teams, not just a few.
The athlete's future may depend on it.
And the children, who look up to them, are watching.
Eric J. Littleton, M.D. is a Family Physician in Sevierville, TN. His office is located at 958 Dolly
Parton Parkway. Topics covered are general in nature and should not be used to change medical
treatments and/or plans without first discussing with your physician. Send questions to