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For now, local schools won't test

Until their 16-year-old son was shot and killed in a $10 drug deal last October, Douglas Vetromile and his wife, Timothy, didn't think government intervention was the answer to social problems.

But Monday's Supreme Court ruling that permits mandatory drug testing of public school athletes made the Vetromiles cheer.

"I think that would be the best thing that could happen to all the schoolchildren in this country," said Mrs. Vetromile, 51, whose son was a talented wrestler at Plant High School. "Drugs are ruining their lives because it's killing their motivation."

Monday's decision, which upheld forced drug testing in an Oregon school district, provoked widespread reaction from school administrators and coaches in the Tampa Bay area. While they agree more needs to be done to combat drugs in schools, they don't agree that mandatory testing is the answer.

"I think it's a good step, a positive step toward the possibility of attacking a problem that maybe does begin at the high-school level," said Ron Davis, commissioner of the Florida High School Activities Association. "We can finally try to clean up this problem without someone constantly looking over our shoulder. If we save one kid, it's a good ruling."

But others said the punishment of kicking an athlete that tested positive off the team could make the problem worse. Pat O'Brien, football coach at King High in Tampa, said schools then would have "no way to reach out to kids."

"It's a good thing to help to detect kids with that problem and get them into some type of program to help them get off that path," O'Brien said. "You have to look at what you would do once you detected it."

Dunedin High boys track coach Randy Lightfoot said the testing would have to be purely random so "that you won't have a person accusing another person because of a vendetta or maybe a person's gender or race ... or this person has long hair, he looks like he might be (on drugs)."

For now, officials in most school districts in the Tampa Bay area said they have no plans to start mandatory drug testing for athletes.

"It just has not been a burning issue," said Bob Hosack, director of athletics and activities for Pinellas County's public schools.

A big problem would be cost. Six years ago, when the Florida High School Activities Association investigated testing athletes on teams in the playoffs, the group was quoted a cost of $100 to $125 per athlete to test for steroids and "recreational" drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, commissioner Davis said.

Still, Davis thinks it's a good idea, and he is certain the FHSAA will take up the issue again. If the group mandated some form of testing, he said, the money ultimately would come from the member schools.

On Monday, several student athletes said they would have no problem being tested for drugs. But Holly Holland, 17, a rising senior and star point guard on the East Lake basketball team, said administrators would be surprised at the number of student-athletes who would fail _ more for recreational drug use than steroids.

"It wouldn't really matter for me, but I know there would be a lot of people that would be unable to play," Holland said.

_ Staff writers Sharon Ginn and Ernest Hooper and correspondent Thomas White contributed to this report.

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