Brookings-Harbor High School teacher and Head Football Coach Joe Morin encourages early-morning participants in a new club on the BHHS campus dedicated to keeping athletes off drugs. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
According to a 2003 study done by the Center for Disease Prevention, one in 16 high school athletes has taken anabolic steroids, with approximately 850,000 high school athletes across the nation affected.
In the Brookings-Harbor School District there are no concrete numbers on how many athletes have taken steroids, but because one kid on steroids is one too many, according to Head Football Coach Joe Morin, he has applied for and received a $10,000 scholarship to implement the ATLAS and ATHENA programs in the Brookings-Harbor school district and particularly in his football program.
ATLAS (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) was developed in 1993 and ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) was created in 1997 by Drs. Linn Goldberg and Diane Elliot of the Oregon Health and Science University and are aimed, respectively, at male and female high school athletes.
Using peer-group discussions at practices and in other team settings, ATLAS and ATHENA programs educate high school athletes about the dangers of performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, including alcohol. The programs have been used at more than 60 high schools across the country and have been named model programs by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and been hailed by Congress in the 2004 Anabolic Steroid Control Act.
Both the NFL and Sports Illustrated magazine have joined in support of the program, offering millions of dollars in scholarship funds to help schools implement the program.
Morin doesn’t want to limit the program to just curbing steroid and other drug use among BHSD athletes though, he wants to educate, incentivize and then hold athletes accountable for their actions.
“We have a couple different ways that we’re attacking it,” he said. “One is accountability and the other is rewards and incentives with education.”
ATLAS and ATHENA will handle the education of the students, while a new club on campus – the Athletic Power and Leadership Club – will provide the incentives and rewards.
“It was zero period weights,” Morin said of the club. “Every morning at 6:45 a.m., the kids get in there and start warming up and then we do our workouts.”
In order to be part of the zero period weights class, participants have to agree to be drug tested every month.
“There are six other periods of weights,” Morin said when asked if the restriction would limit students participation. “We’re not restricting access.”
Incentives include custom T-shirts, pizza lunches with the club and trips to various activities that promote athleticism and healthy living.
On Sunday, Morin and assistant coach Bruce Wales took a group of club members to Salem for the Northwest Elite Combine, a football event that allows high school juniors – soon to be seniors – to be filmed, evaluated and ranked against athletes from eight cities across Montana, Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
According to Morin, the incentives have to be enough that kids can use it as an excuse to not give into peer pressure.
And if that fails, they can fall back on the fact that they can be tested at any point in the month for drugs.
Testing is not something required by the ATLAS and ATHENA program, but it is something that Morin feels is important to help the athletes be accountable for their decisions – especially among members of his football team.
“Our captains will be drug free this year. I’ve told the kids coming out for football that if they want to be a captain they’ll be drug tested every month including June July and August,” he explained.
“I’m not going to have a kid standing out there and have younger kids looking up at them as they stand there for the coin flip and knowing that on Friday or Saturday night, as a seventh and eighth grader you can be partying with that captain.”
The test that the team will administer is an improvement over past tests, and will look for other drugs in addition to steroids, according to Morin.
“It’s not just a test for steroids,” he said. “The drug of choice for our community is marijuana.
“We’re going to find a test for nicotine, too, because marijuana and chewing seem to be the biggest problem.”
Morin’s program will go above and beyond the requirements provided by Goldberg’s program but he explained that when he told Dr. Goldberg his plan, the doctor was enthusiastic.
“When he heard we were testing he said that testing doesn’t work,” Morin explained. “But when he heard how we’re doing it he said he had never heard of it that was and said it was ‘outstanding.’ ”
“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all program,” Goldberg said in a 2008 USA Today article. “What we did was create a program that can change attitudes by changing knowledge.
“You can run all the public service announcements you want, but that’s not going to change behavior.”
Morin decided to run the program his way because he wants to provide a way for the football players – and the school in general – to be accountable for their choices, and he feels that it is a big part of the reason why they procured the $10,000 scholarship.
“The whole school is going to a program where we lift up those kids who are choosing to be drug free,” he said. “I’m going to make sure there is no doubt that the kids who are leading the football team are drug free.”
Drug testing is not cheap and the club has provided the means to pay for the testing through fundraisers.
“We raised $13,000 doing a telethon with the radio station earlier in the year,” Morin said. “We had a lot of people come in and talk, including Rory Smith and others, and collected donations.”
Morin has been coaching the football team for the past three years but he has more than 20 years in the program.
“I’ve got 26 years in the program, but I took four years off,” Morin explained. “When I got out of coaching four years ago, I stepped away. There was some drug use then, but the spring I came back I thought, ‘There’s a problem here.’
“Would have been a lot easier for me not to coach. To stay in the boat. But, hey, we’re making a difference in some kids’ lives.”
While Morin is a teacher and he gets paid to instruct, it takes additional dedication to implement programs that go above and beyond the core curriculum.
One thing that gives Morin that dedication is seeing the positive results in the lives of his former BHHS athletes.
“When I see Morgan Kocher getting his doctorates; he’s getting his doctorates and part of that is from me,” he said. “Neil Itzen, CPA, Chambers went to the CIA and is doing who knows what.
“Those kids being successful; that’s how you tell if the program is any good or not. It’s not what they did during the season. It’s what happened three to four years after the season. That is where success is found.”
By Morin’s standard the success of the ATLAS and ATHENA program has yet to be determined but, according to Wales, the effects are beginning to be seen.
“The kids in the program are much more at ease saying no,” Wales explained. “The kids are standing up for themselves and what the program means to them.”
If changes in behavior are the first signs that a program is working, then it seems to be a burgeoning success.