A WBZ Reports special series by Jim Smith

BOSTON (CBS) – Running faster. Jumping higher. More home runs. More touchdowns. The pressure to win in sports is tremendous. That pressure has led some of the biggest names in professional sports to seek artificial help in the form of steroids and other supplements.

The pressure to succeed at any cost extends to younger athletes as well. In the rough and tumble world of high school football, strength is a key asset. Just how far will players go to get the edge?

According to the most recent national statistics, more than three percent of all high school students have taken steroids. The good news? That’s about half the rate from just seven years ago.

 Listen to Jim Smith’s report

“I think the message is getting out,” said Marshfield High School running back Tom Pomella. “I haven’t heard of anybody using steroids. I know that was a big deal back in the day but I haven’t really heard of anybody using them.”

“I think the message definitely is out,” agreed teammate Jeff Wallace. “I’ve never seen steroids in my life.”

Massachusetts sits right at the national average of steroid use at 3.3 percent. Louisiana has the highest rate at 7.1 percent.

West Roxbury High School coach Leo Sybertz is optimistic, and said that steroids are rare at the high school level. “We don’t really have to talk much about steroids. We don’t seem to have a problem with that.”

Still, it’s something Watertown football coach John Cacace brings up with his players.

“It’s out there. It’s available. Kids have access to things; they try things; they experiment. We talk to them – for their own health they shouldn’t be doing those things.”

The danger of steroids may be obvious, but another issue is quickly becoming a concern: energy drinks. The canned elixirs, often filled with sugar and caffeine, are very popular and perfectly legal.

“The energy drinks are a growing challenge,” said Bob Bigelow, a former NBA first round draft choice who grew up in Winchester. He is now a nationally known youth sports speaker and co-author of the book “Just Let the Kids Play.”

“Some of these drinks, they out-Red Bull the Red Bull,” he said. “You’ve got some others that are off the charts. They can certainly over-caffeinate; they can jack up the heartbeat, things like that.”

The state of Virginia’s high school league has just voted to ban the use of energy drinks by student athletes during games and practices, citing what they call a “potential serious safety and health issue.”

“Energy drinks, it’s against my judgment, against my feelings,” said coach Lou Silva of Marshfield High. “So, we’re constantly on the kids to stay away from that stuff.”

You can hear Jim Smith’s series on the State of Youth Sports all week on WBZ News Radio at 12:05 and 5:05 p.m.


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