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Q & A: Tony Ciarelli

September 23, 1997|ERIK HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Ciarelli, who is one of the pioneers of prep weight training, says there is no room in high school for steroids to enhance performance levels. He has served as strength coach at Edison and Newport Harbor high schools before taking over this fall as varsity football coach at Huntington Beach, where he runs a tight ship.

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Q: What is your philosophy about weight training in high school?

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A: It's imperative that the high school athlete be trained with weights. Besides helping him with the ability to perform on the field, it can also cut down on injuries. The stronger the athlete is, especially in the joint connections, the less likelihood of injury.

At Huntington Beach, we promote--much like we did at Newport Harbor and Edison--Olympic lifting, which is a ground-base movement and a joint movement. So instead of sitting in a chair like you would do with a Nautilus machine, there's coordination and balance involved, just like when you're out on the field. It's snatch, clean and jerk. It's speed movements rather than just dead lifts. We also do squats and bench presses for basic strength building.

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Q: Are you concerned that some high school athletes may be taking steroids to enhance their performance?

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A: It's something to worry about in that any individual who is taking steroids is something to be concerned about. But is it a widespread problem in high school sports? From my personal experience, no it's not. It's pretty ridiculous if any high school athlete takes steroids for any reason. There's absolutely no reason. A scientifically based strength and conditioning program will give you as much as you need at the high school level.

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Q: Does it worry you that steroids may be easily available in local gyms?

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A: That's one of the reasons we try to persuade our athlete not to go to those kind of gyms. I don't say, "[You can't] go down to [that] gym because there are steroids there." They just don't need to do any more [weight training] than we're giving them. We give them a full program and it's scientifically based, so it's all they need.

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Q: And you offer a weight program at school during the off-season?

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A: We work out year around, unless you're in another sport. All of the sports are free to use the weight room, but not everybody is using it now. But [the school's strength coach, his wife, Stephanie] will write up a program for [any player from] any sport that wants to come in there. So if you go from football to basketball to baseball and back into football, you're using the same weight-lifting techniques the whole way through.

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Q: Last month, Mater Dei announced it would require all its students to submit to a drug test before enrolling. Would you like to see public schools adopt a similar policy for their athletes?

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A: No. I teach history and I'm a firm believer in the Constitution of the United States. I think that's an invasion of privacy. And if it had to be done in any particular way, then it would have to include every student. To single out athletes is wrong because across the board, from pro athletics all the way down, even though the public has the perception that athletes are the biggest users, there's less drug use and abuse by athletes than there is by the general public.

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Q: Are there county coaches who might actually encourage their athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs?

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A: That's a pretty tough question. Not that I know of. As far as other strength programs, like Bill Pendleton's at Esperanza and a couple of the others, they all have very involved programs. And once again, anybody who is educated and has looked at it scientifically knows that you can get everything you need out of your high school athlete just by developing a good program.

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Q: Is there ever a time in an athlete's career that you would recommend steroid use?

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A: That's a tough question too. I know a couple of players I went to college with that only made pro football because they did take steroids. If they hadn't taken steroids, they wouldn't have made it in pro football. I don't know if that's beneficial or not. I just don't know.

Q&A, a new feature about those prominent in the Orange County prep sports, will appear regularly in Prep Extra.

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