As teenagers in neon cleats stutter-step between lines of orange cones on the sun-baked grass behind Norland Senior High, coach Daryle Heidelburg punctuates the sweltering afternoon with a booming outburst. "Damian, get on the ground, please!" he hollers to a receiver, who falls at once and starts doing pushups. "First ball they throw to you? Don't go first if you gonna drop it!"
Dominating the horizon just a mile and a half west, Sun Life Stadium looms over the practice like the distant hope of college and pro glory for the few kids big and fast enough to jump from the Norland Vikings to the next level. As South Florida's hothouse high school football season kicks into full swing this week, competition for playing time -- and eventually college scholarships and pro prospects -- has never been tougher.
That's why Coach "Burg" isn't shocked to hear about the mounting evidence that some teens have turned to back-alley steroid clinics like Tony Bosch's infamous Biogenesis operation in Coral Gables for an illicit leg up.
"It's gonna take something catastrophic, something major to happen, to make a difference," Heidelburg says, watching his players nab spiraled balls from the air. "Once a kid passes out or almost dies on the field or something because of the drugs, the first time that happens we'll finally get real change."
But that doesn't mean administrators aren't trying. This morning, Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced the district would start a pilot program to test high school athletes for steroids during the upcoming season.
The change comes two days after Bosch and six associates were charged in federal court with illegally distributing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to both professional athletes and dozens of minors -- including at least 18 kids in Miami-Dade.
"We're going to sensitize the parents, the students, the coaches to this issue very aggressively," Carvalho tells the Miami Herald.
And it's not the only change to high school athletics as a result of the Biogenesis scandal. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FSHAA) has passed a whole raft of reforms that officially went into effect last month, just in time for the new football season. Among those rules: an outright ban on human growth hormone (HGH) for the first time, and a policy to ban for a year any coach or parent who helps a kid get steroids or HGH.
"When Biogenesis came into view, when it came up on our radar, we realized we needed a tougher policy in place," Dr. Roger Dearing, president of the FSHAA, tells Riptide. "With this new age of HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs, we needed a bylaw and policy that covered more than just steroids."
Coaches from around South Florida will gather in Doral this Friday to hear a presentation on the new rules and regulations.
But it's a fair question whether the new policies will have much effect on doping in high school athletics, particularly in Dade County, where -- as the Bosch scandal illuminated -- getting steroids and HGH has never been easier.
For one thing, testing is expensive and MDCPS has almost no cash to fund the pilot program. Carvalho will begin with just $73,000 for the program, though he hopes to raise more funds. Each test costs more than $50 to analyze -- and that's just for steroids; HGH tests are far more expensive and time-consuming.
It's also not a level playing field -- Broward County has no plans to begin testing anytime soon, though anti-aging clinics like Biogenesis are just as prevalent there. Dearing tells Riptide only a handful of districts around the state test their players regularly, and each has its own standards on what to test for.
"Testing is very expensive, and you can't test for everything. HGH is still almost impossible to test for," Dearing says.
But back at the Norland High practice, Coach Burg says he welcomes any moves that discourage student-athletes -- and especially parents -- from taking chemical shortcuts.
"First off all, you're damaging your body, and even more so when you're still developing," he says. "High school kids aren't fully grown yet, and you don't know if it's going to stunt growth or have other effects in the meantime... And if parents are involved, that's even worse. Spend that money on a trainer or a weight set for your kids."
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