As concerns about drug abuse intensified after the recent cocaine-induced deaths of two noted young athletes, school officials and coaches of Banning High in Wilmington went public Wednesday with a new program--drug testing for all Banning athletes, boys and girls, on a voluntary basis.
It is the first Los Angeles Unified school--and one of only a few in the nation--to initiate such a program. It will begin in September.
"It is our contention that a drug (testing) program will help at this high school because it gives players a chance to say no," said Chris Ferragamo, Banning football coach for 23 years.
'A Good Start'
"I really believe our kids are clean now. They're getting cleaner every year, and we're going to keep it clean here. But it's tough. The worst thing in high school is peer pressure. In high school, it's very difficult to say no to your peers. I think it (the drug-testing program) is a good start."
The voluntary drug-testing program will begin with Banning's varsity football team members, last year's city champions, who will be asked, with their parents' approval, to sign up for the testing plan, a urine screening test for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, PCP and other drugs. Members of the junior varsity and Bee football teams also will be asked to participate--in all, about 200 football players at the school, a traditional powerhouse in city school sports.
Including all sports, about 500 Banning athletes will be able to sign up for testing if they wish. Results of the tests will be kept confidential between medical officials and those tested and their parents, so that eligibility to participate in sports will not be a factor, school officials said. One effect of the program will be to initiate therapy privately, if a need is indicated.
Working out at a weight-training session Tuesday night, the varsity football players said they were 100% behind the new program.
"As a group, we all decided we would join the program," senior defensive tackle Terrance Powe said. "Yes, there are drugs on this campus. They're everywhere. You've just got to learn to stay away from those guys who use, or if you have a friend who does, you try to get him some help. I talked to my mother and she said it (the program) was a good idea. Look at (Len) Bias and (Don) Rogers (the athletes who died recently from cocaine use). They were foolish. Foolish."
Pat Cragin, Banning's assistant principal who put together the new program after a year of research, designed it on a lottery-type basis, with the names of five athletes who have volunteered for testing to be drawn each week by a school official.
The students whose names have been drawn will give urine samples at the assistant principal's office. The samples will then be taken to San Pedro Peninsula Hospital by a school official. The hospital has agreed to underwrite the cost of the testing, as well as providing a free consultation and an educational program for students and faculty as part of its community service program. Hospital officials also are working out special rates for students who need continued counseling or inpatient or outpatient therapy.
"From the point the samples go to the hospital, we will never know if the diagnosis is positive or negative," Banning principal Estela Pena said. "That will be between the doctor and the student and parents. This is a program to be preventive and informative, not punitive. The school won't be informed and the test results won't be in a student's record because the hospital will have them. It will not jeopardize his or her eligibility in a sport."
Cragin and Pena said that testing forms, to be signed by both student and parents or guardians, will be sent home with the students in September with a cover letter explaining what the program is all about. Before school was out in June, though, Cragin talked with the students about the plan, and also presented it to the school's Booster Club.
"The kids were all for it and when I took it to the Booster Club, they said they would do anything to help," Cragin said. "We think Banning has the best athletic program around and we feel adding a voluntary drug program will improve it. It is our responsibility to students and parents. We haven't had any (drug) problems on the teams and we don't want any. We feel it will give the students the opportunity to say no to drugs because they might be tested on Monday. We also thought it would keep the drug pushers away from our teams. We're looking at 100% participation and nothing less.
Three Questions Asked
"We entertain a lot of college coaches through here every year and for the last two or three years, they ask three questions," he continued. "One, how is the athlete's attitude, two, how are his grades. And the third one is 'any drug problem.' "