Drug tests could have made a difference

Picture your teenage son or daughter at a friend's house on a Saturday night. They're bored, they're alone and they're, well, teenagers. Pretty soon even video games and TV get old, and that's when Kid A turns to Kid B and says, "Wanna try a joint?"

Yeah, I know, can't happen. Your kid doesn't hang out with those types, and if even if there is that one friend you're not quite sure about (every kid has at least one) you're not worried. After all, you're a good parent. You encourage open discussions about sex, drugs and alcohol, you keep tabs on his/her whereabouts and you monitor. And he's/she's a good kid — responsible, honest, etc.

Here's the bad news. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 42.3 percent of 12th-graders have tried marijuana at least once, and more than 20 percent of sophomores and 30 percent of seniors have used in the last 12 months. If you're reading this with three or more teenagers in the room, chances are one of them wasn't acting goofy the other day just because they were born that way.

These facts aren't apocalyptic. In many cases, teenage users eventually stop and life goes on. No repercussions. They grow up, have kids (maybe you're one of those kids). In other cases, those users engage in activities that, when combined with marijuana, could put themselves or others in danger.

Like play football.

Ashland High football coach Charlie Hall knows all about that, and not just because two of his players were caught with drugs off campus prior to the season, promptly earning two-game suspensions. No, Hall went to the school board last week, asking for permission to randomly test his players for marijuana and alcohol use, because many of those players thought that it would be a good idea.

"It came from our leadership council," Hall said. "It's a football council. We elect representatives from each class. Every year there are three seniors, two juniors and a sophomore (representative), and those kids can decide all kinds of things — what color socks we wear, whether we're all red or all white, what to serve at the banquet.

"Those are kids that I can go to and say, what's your take on this, what are you hearing from your teammates, what are you hearing from the public. And I can take that information and develop a policy or whatever it might be in that case. It's a valuable commodity and if a kid on our team has an issue about some things and they're afraid to talk to a coach about it then they can at least know that there's kids on the team hopefully that they can go to and discuss their issues. And I have kids that are pretty savvy about the culture that they're in; they came to me and said, 'It's getting out of hand and we've gotta do some things about it.'"

If you've been following the news, you know the rest of the story. Hall took the idea to the parents, who overwhelmingly approved, then to the school board, which overwhelmingly did not. The 5-0 vote to shelve the proposal for two months is not only a blow to common sense, it's a slap in the face to the coaches, parents and the student-athletes themselves who know there's a problem, want to try to fix it, but aren't being allowed to try.

Ashland High athletic director Karl Kemper pointed out as much after the meeting when he said, "I believe it's an unfortunate decision. We have a group of kids and parents who want to go through with this and we let them down tonight."

Of course, there are other layers to this onion. Will drug testing deter usage? What kind of message does this send to the team about trust? What's the legal precedent? How can the school guarantee confidentiality?

The first question may be the most important, and Hall, who's coached football at the prep and college level for more than 20 years, is pretty sure that the answer is "yes." Don't underestimate that opinion. Hall has spent virtually his entire adult life around football players and has a son on the team.

Hall wants to give players who find themselves in a compromising situation an out, an alibi, and believes that the threat of a random test — which, by the way, would have been voluntary — would serve that role well.

"We're dealing with a lot more options that are out there that are distractions," he said. "Not that kids aren't committed or dedicated, but there's a prevailing perception that it's OK, or it's not that big a deal to do that kind of behavior. I think that's the biggest issue with me.

"We're trying to create deterrents, trying to give our people tools to say "No" to certain things, because these are my consequences and they're pretty much black and white."

In other words, when Jack asks Johnny if he wants to try a joint, just one, it's a lot easier for Johnny to pass when he has a specific reason that other kids respect. And yes, that Grizzly paw carries a certain amount of weight.

The school board's decision doesn't necessarily mean that Ashland High will forever be a drug test-free zone. In two months the board may in fact reconsider (though its unanimous decision on Sept. 14 does not bode well for Hall and company), which could lead to similar proposals concerning winter and spring sports teams.

In the mean time, we'll all have to live with the very real possibility that when Ashland faces Willamette on Friday, a few Grizzlies may be a little out of sorts, a little slow to react, as they throw their bodies at an opposing ball carrier, or run full speed toward 250-pound linebackers, or, most frightening of all, drive home after the game.

I realize I'm starting to sound like an alarmist, so I'll leave you with a fact that should give you some hope: They make great video games these days.

Joe Zavala is the Ashland Daily Tidings sports editor. Reach him at jzavala@dailytidings.com or 482-3456 x223.

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