Keeping drugs out of high school athletics
San Francisco — THE football season is long over, but Shawn Hector is still pumping iron in the team's weight room every day after school. Already, the high school junior is looking forward to next year. But Shawn's enthusiasm is tinged with a bittersweet realization: Next season is likely to be his last hurrah on the field - unless he is recruited by a college. So he's working out now every day, hoping to put on the 20 pounds that will make him more attractive to scouts.
There are thousands of young athletes like Shawn in this country, but, unlike him, some will try to find a shortcut to success by taking bulk-building drugs such as steroids. Others, uneasy about their futures in sports, may try to escape from their worries by using cocaine, marijuana, or alcohol.
Paul Good, a clinical psychologist who specializes in chemical dependency, has worked for years with athletes on the college and professional levels. But when high school coaches in San Francisco started sending him drug-dependent athletes, he says, he was spurred to take a new course of action.
``After seeing these young athletes for a year or two, I thought, doesn't it make sense to reach them before they get hooked - to work on preventing drug use in the first place?'' Dr. Good says.
Good plans to meet tomorrow with Shawn and about 300 other student athletes at San Francisco's George Washington High School to kick off a pilot drug-prevention program. Called the Achilles Project, it will try to impress on high school athletes that they are not immune to the poisonous dart of drug abuse just because their bodies are strong.
More important, Good says, will be the effort to prepare students mentally to resist suggestions that drug use is necessary to relax, to have fun, to be creative, or to be the big man on campus.
In an interview in his San Francisco office, Good is the first to admit he is not sure how effective the Achilles Project will be. Drug-prevention experts - including educators, administrators, peer counselors, psychologists, parents, and police - have been battling drug use in the schools for 20 years, and they still do not know what works, he says.
There is more consensus, however, on what doesn't work, Good says. One-shot pep rallies, featuring big names and rock bands, appear to have little lasting effect. Scare tactics have failed. So have drug-education classes that taught youngsters about the types, uses, and effects of drugs but may have had the unintended result of arousing their curiosity.
Good says he believes the Achilles Project will avoid the old pitfalls, focusing instead on helping youngsters gain the mental toughness to resist pressures to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
``What we're talking about is helping a kid develop a passion,'' says Good, himself a former amateur tennis player. ``First you have to envision your goal. Then you have to visualize yourself achieving that goal. And every morning when you wake up, you think about it and make a commitment to it.''
Whether the goal is to high-jump eight feet at a track meet or to turn down a beer the next time it's offered, the mental-rehearsal skills are the same, he says.
Although Good has been working for several years to launch the Achilles Project, the program gets off the ground just as the United States is preparing to wage its biggest war ever against drug abuse in the public schools. Legislation signed by President Reagan in October authorizes the federal government to spend up to $700 million over the next three years on antidrug campaigns in elementary and secondary schools.
US Secretary of Education William Bennett, however, has proposed reducing this year's allotment by half, saying there are not enough data to determine which programs work and which do not.
Still, drug-prevention specialists are leaning toward programs that, like the Achilles Project, focus on helping kids identify and resist social pressures that can lead to drug abuse.
Good is careful to note that ``student athletes don't have any more of a problem with drugs than the other kids.'' A 1979 Minnesota survey showed that athletes in Grades 9 through 12 use most drugs in the same proportions as nonathletes. Nationally, the survey would suggest that 87 percent of high school athletes use alcohol, 42 percent use marijuana, and 36 percent use cocaine or other stimulants, he says.
The Achilles Project is focusing on athletes because they are ``a natural leadership cadre'' on campus, Good says. ``If we can impact the behavior of this group, there will be a natural ripple effect through the school.''
In addition, Good says he felt that young athletes ``were particularly at risk'' after learning that some of their role models were drug users.
The myth that athletes are automatically clean cut and all-American was shaken by disclosure of cocaine addiction in the pros, he says. The myth exploded once and for all last June with the cocaine-related deaths of college basketball star Len Bias and Cleveland Browns pro football player Don Rogers.
Part of Good's program will introduce the students to two former Olympic athletes, who, he says, are ``inspiring'' role models. One of them , former decathlon competitor Marilyn King, says she encourages youngsters to dare to dream - to push at the limits of their potential.
People who can't imagine themselves going to the Olympics or running a marathon probably never will, she says. Similarly, ``if you can't see yourself kicking a drug habit, or turning down drugs, you won't,'' she says. ``The image always precedes the reality.''
The Achilles Project is partly modeled after Pros for Kids, another California organization that uses professional athletes to reach teen-agers. ``Pro athletes are very definitely role models for youngsters, not just for athletes,'' says Carol Burgoa of Pros for Kids.
Good believes his program is unique, however, because of the follow-up visits his staff will make to each team - baseball, swimming, track, and so on - this spring. If successful, and if he can find funding, he'd like to expand the program to all of San Francisco's high schools.
``It will take a process of building a relationship with the teams,'' Good says. And to that goal, he is dedicating his own vision, dream, and commitment.
Seventh in an occasional series. Others have run on Dec. 4, 10, and 16 and Jan. 2, 9, and 22.