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Between Privacy and Playing Clean : Some schools have voluntary drug-testing in their athletic programs, but costs and civil rights are at issue.

October 24, 1995|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1985 Edison High started a revolutionary and somewhat controversial voluntary drug-testing program for its athletes. Ten years later, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a ruling in an Oregon case that reinforced Edison's right to drug-test students on a voluntary and random basis.

Since 1985, other Orange County schools, such as Laguna Hills, Brea Olinda and El Toro, have picked up the ball from Edison and run with their own voluntary and random drug-testing programs. Meanwhile, Edison's program has gone full-circle in 10 years--from cutting edge to being cut out. A lack of funding and interest doomed Edison's program, which was presented a national award for its impact on teen-agers.

While Edison looks to see if its dormant program is worth reviving, some schools, including Corona del Mar and Mater Dei, are discussing whether they want to start drug-testing programs. Even the financially strapped Irvine Unified School District is talking about the possibility of testing its student-athletes for drugs. Other Southland schools that run successful drug-testing programs include Fontana and Murrieta Valley.

The new-found interest in drug-testing high school students doesn't appear to be in response to any trend, any specific incident or even to the recent Supreme Court ruling. (The ruling said students--including non-athletes--can be forced to undergo random urine tests to detect illegal drugs.) Instead, every administrator and coach who was interviewed said the biggest selling point of drug testing is determent, not punitive, which, in fact, is the message of national Red Ribbon Week, which began Monday.

It is also the message the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals gave its member schools in a September legal memorandum. The memo suggested that drug-testing programs are important so long as they are directed at athletes and their goal is "reducing safety risks in competition." The memo also said results of the tests should be used "only to meet the goals of the program and not for other disciplinary or criminal penalties."

While it existed, Edison's program was consistent with that message.

"The best thing about the program was that it gave the kids a way to say no to someone at a party or some other function," Edison football Coach Dave White said. "The peer pressure in high school is always there. But now, a kid can say, 'No, I can't. I might be tested tomorrow.' There's a lot of kids who don't want to do these drugs, but they feel like they have to because so many of their friends are."

Brea Olinda, El Toro and Laguna Hills run essentially the same kind of program that Edison introduced. Athletes--and in Brea Olinda's case, all students participating in extracurricular activities--are given the option to be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol before the start of each sports season. Those who choose to participate can be randomly tested each week.

Only the student, parent and doctor are notified if a student tests positive. None of the four schools are currently testing for steroids, but they are testing for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and derivatives of cocaine.

"We were interested in nipping the thing in the bud and notifying parents before the problem got worse," said Bill Workman, who helped institute the program at Edison before leaving a year later to coach football at Orange Coast College.

"We start these programs so we can help our kids say no to drugs, not so we can catch kids or narc on kids," said Corona del Mar Principal Don Martin, whose school is holding an Oct. 25 meeting on campus to determine how much community support there is for drug-testing.

Workman said he didn't have much support when he and Dr. Robert Belanger instituted Edison's program.

"It was pretty bold," Workman said. "We got phone calls from about every organization you can think of. The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], all of them. But we worked our way through with the help of lawyers and doctors."

Workman said he and Belanger began talking about drug testing at a pizza parlor after an Edison football game.

"We were talking about some players who had graduated, and some things were coming out about kids who were alcohol and drug users at Edison," Workman said. "I looked back and said, 'What are we doing?' You looked back and remembered things that happened in games on Friday night, and suddenly a lot of it made sense.

"We figured if people didn't like it, that's OK. We figured we'd lose some players, but in the long run we thought we'd win more games because of it."

That first year Workman got 99 of his 100 players to participate in the program. Edison won a Southern Section championship that year (1985) and the team's motto was "mean, green and clean." Many of the players had their negative drug test slips taped to their locker as a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Workman said the only player who refused to be tested was the son of a lawyer. In the spring, the player was picked up for possession of drugs.

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