By SETH STASKEY, Times Leader Sports Editor
Drug testing amongst high school athletes is becoming one of the more hot-button issues around the Ohio Valley, state of Ohio and the entire country.
Prep sports are an extension of th classroom, which add to the entire educational process through teaching countless life lessons.
One of the lessons the schools are teaching is there's no need for illegal drugs and performance enhancing drugs are cheating.
Schools have also taken the initiative to test for nicotine and alcohol, which are growing problems amongst high school kids.
Very few high school athletic associations around the country mandate drug testing for their student-athletes. Neither Ohio nor West Virginia require their schools to test, but the schools - and a few locally - have started the process on their own.
While the issue has been debated, Martins Ferry was the first school in the immediate area to drug test its athletes. The Purple Riders started testing each male and female athlete prior to their season in August of 2010.
When the Purple Riders were forming their policy on the issue, they worked closely with Cambridge, which was one of the first OVAC member schools to institute the policy.
"Cambridge was a huge help," Fitch said. "We felt it was the right thing for us to do in Martins Ferry, and I believe the program is a success."
While there is obvious discipline with the program if an athlete tests positive, the point of the program is to get kids help and try to curb the problem early because it becomes a much more serious issue.
"We adopted the program as a way to help student athletes that may have a substance abuse problem rather than just dismissing a young person from a team without providing them the help they may need," Fitch said. "The testing policy involves participation in further substance abuse assessments and aftercare if any student would fail a test."
The idea of drug testing is catching on amongst other area schools. Since Ferry adopted its policy, Barnesville has instituted a drug-testing program and according to Fitch, he's had other schools approach him about taking a look at the Purple policy.
"We have been contacted by several schools in the OVAC and some outside the conference," Fitch said. "They all wanted to view our policy and get ideas on the success of the program."
The Ohio High School Athletic Association has no mandatory program in place, according to Director of Information Services Tim Stried.
Instead, the state's governing body of prep sports leaves it up to each individual school district if it so chooses.
"The decision whether or not to perform drug testing is the responsibility of each school because there are so many variables involved, such as cost, feasibility, need, and if the school or community wants it," Stried said via email.
While the OHSAA doesn't mandate the testing, it does have guidelines for tobacco and alcohol as well as performance-enhancing drugs.
The state has never surveyed the membership on what school district do or do not drug test its student-athletes.
Community support has never been questioned in Martins Ferry. Fitch indicated not one student and/or parent has ever refused the test and there's been no negative feedback.
"The students understand that playing a sport at Martins Ferry carries with it the responsibility of staying drug and alcohol free," Fitch said. "It also gives those students getting pressured by peers to use alcohol or drugs an out due to future testing, and the program also notifies the parents or guardians of potential drug or alcohol issues their students may be facing."
Staskey may be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org