ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
NOAH ADAMS, host:
And I'm Noah Adams.
For this week's installment of our high school football series Friday Night Lives, we're going to hear about something on the minds of parents, coaches, many players: steroids.
In 2007, Texas created the country's most expansive steroid testing program for high school athletes. It tested tens of thousands of students, most frequently, football players. And the results are now in.
As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, those results have caused some surprise in Texas.
MIKE PESCA: More kids play football in Texas than anywhere else in the country. Mark Cousins oversees them all. In fact, as chief of staff of the University Interscholastic League, he's in charge of administering the state's steroid testing program for all high school athletes. That means he has to grapple with some big numbers and one small one.
Mr. MARK COUSINS (Chief of Staff, University Interscholastic League): We just finished up for the '08-'09 school year in May. And in that total time period, we tested 45,193 student athletes.
PESCA: And how many positives did you get?
Mr. COUSINS: Nineteen.
PESCA: Nineteen. Football is a game of inches, but 19? So what are the anti-steroid activists saying now that less than 1/20th of one percent of those tested turned up positive?
Mr. DON HOOTON (President, Taylor Hooton Foundation): The program really, really worked and was effective and got a lot of kids to stop.
PESCA: Don Hooton is the president of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, named for Don's son who committed suicide after abruptly quitting steroids while in high school. Hooton has testified before Congress and strongly advocated that the Texas Legislature pass the testing bill in 2007. If you had asked him then, Hooton now concedes, he wouldn't have been surprised by 1,000 positive results. To him, 19 just means that the program was a great deterrent. He does fear, however, that others will draw the opposite conclusion.
Mr. HOOTON: We've got some, you know, folks that are opposed to testing just because it's testing. You know, our civil rights folks that would like to read into this, that we've been, you know, we've wasted money. I don't think we've wasted a nickel on this program.
(Soundbite of cheering)
PESCA: Hooton says he hears from current players who support him. At Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, Andrew Eteeocky and Na'a Moeakiola say they think steroid testing could deter.
Mr. ANDREW ETEEOCKY: The testing is random. Like, it was just a random time. I didn't know I was going to get tested. And yeah, I think they're just - a lot of kids are scared of that, too, if they are thinking about using it.
Mr. NA'A MOEAKIOLA: Yeah, I think they would be scared and then not want to get caught if, like, they're in sports, and so they would stop it.
PESCA: They say they don't take steroids anyway, so it's just supposition.
Texas's Governor Rick Perry, who signed the program into being, looked at the 19 positives and concluded, our kids aren't anywhere near as enthralled with these enhancing drugs as some people seemed to think two years ago.
The other states that test players reported similar numbers. Florida scrapped its program last year after reporting only one positive result. New Jersey continues testing a few hundred athletes after getting only two positives. And Illinois has actually expanded its testing, despite the fact that none of the 700 students they tested resulted in a confirmed positive.
The difficulty with testing, says Oregon Health Science University Professor Linn Goldberg, is that the low number of positives might say more about the test than the steroid problem.
Dr. LINN GOLDBERG (Professor of Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University): I'm surprised you can find anyone with so few kids being tested.
PESCA: Few? But Texas tests 45,000 students. But in trying to catch steroid users — who may number only one out of 100 players — 45,000 isn't that big a number at all. Add in the fact that Texas doesn't test in summer, and Goldberg fears that a flawed test might lead some to the wrong conclusion.
As for the idea that any amount of testing is deterrent, Goldberg's studies don't bear that out.
Dr. GOLDBERG: Ninety-four out of 100 kids know they'll never be tested. We found that to increase the awareness of being tested, we had to go up to 50 percent.
PESCA: The statistics aren't as impressive to Don Hooton as his conviction that a testing program might have saved his son.
Mr. HOOTON: I believe if Taylor had thought there was a chance he'd get caught, he would've stayed away from the stuff.
PESCA: Don Hooton does say something that Linn Goldberg, and Mark Cousins, and the national anti-steroid activists all agree with: testing isn't the number one tool in the fight against steroids, it's education.
The Texas State Legislature has decided to cut its steroid testing program by two-thirds this year. The sponsor of the original bill says that even if 30,000 fewer students are tested, the program will still act as an effective deterrent.
Mike Pesca, NPR News.
ADAMS: And we're getting lots of good listener suggestions for our high school football series. We've heard about some very interesting teams and coaches. And, yes, we will indeed have a piece about marching bands, lots of requests for that. Please keep the ideas coming. Go to npr.org/football.