PLYMOUTH, N.H. — BUY a soft drink and help keep Plymouth State College athletes ``clean.'' That's part of the drug prevention and education battle cry heard (actually read on place mats) around New Hampshire recently as varsity athletes voluntarily prepared to take drug tests.
In a novel example of corporate sponsorship, Burger King restaurants throughout the Granite State underwrote the cost of tests, in addition to other substance-abuse measures. For one week the franchise contributed 10 cents to this initiative for each Pepsi sold.
On most campuses the idea of drug testing is about as popular as military conscription. Acceptance of the tests, therefore, seems a quirky development in a state where license plates carry the motto ``Live Free or Die,'' and where no one is calling the Plymouth State fieldhouse a haven for coke and steroid users.
Nonetheless, members of the fall and winter sports teams almost unanimously consented to tests, taken by a randomly selected group of about 50 athletes.
``At most every school there are going to be drugs involved,'' says basketball co-captain Kyle Hodson, ``and by having this testing we can show that we run our athletic programs clean.''
Though no one has been pointing fingers at the Plymouth State teams, which have achieved a fair measure of success among small colleges, athletic director Steve Bamford doesn't believe in standing idly by.
``We're not any better or any worse than anybody else, we just think this insidious problem needs to be addressed,'' he says. ``As a result, we've decided to take a preventive, pro-active posture by providing programming, awareness, and education.''
Following formation of a 12-member substance-abuse advisory committee on campus last year, Bamford talked to various squad captains and asked them to ``consider the possibility'' of getting their teammates to comply with testing.
Coaches were not involved and were not informed about which athletes agreed to participate.
The first tests were administered recently by outside medical groups, at an estimated cost of $2,500. Athletes were checked for the presence of numerous drugs on the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) banned-substances list.
Results of the individual tests, which take a few weeks to complete, will not be made public. Anyone found using drugs will be encouraged to seek help, but no punitive measures are planned at this point.
The NCAA began mandatory drug testing during postseason tournaments three years ago. The concept was successfully challenged in a limited way in court by several Stanford athletes, yet more and more schools are adopting their own drug screening programs. What Plymouth State is doing is unusual, though, because of the size of the school and the corporate backing for the antidrug program.