Athletes reach out to youth

(Graphic by Ali Urosevic)

Recently, the Ontario Trillium Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant to the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES) in hopes to develop an anti-performance enhancing project set to tour Kitchener-Waterloo high schools.

Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Waterloo and the Kitchener Rangers have collaborated with the CCES to introduce the topic of appearance and performance enhancing drugs (PED) into the education system.

“It’s a pilot project,” said Peter Baxter, Laurier’s director of athletics and recreation. “Basically, [it’s] an athlete peer-mentoring program that will go into the schools.”

The abuse of PED in Ontario universities burst into the spotlight in 2010 when nine players of the Waterloo Warrior’s men’s football team tested positive for steroid use.

The incident was marked as one of the largest in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) history, which resulted in a cancelled season and saw some students go to trial due to alleged trafficking.

“We know of all the different cases that have come out in the media,” Baxter said. “But in [Canadian] college sport, that was the first. So, if it’s around, you want to make sure that young people get the right information.”

The plan then, is to bring in eight athletes from each institution and talk to students about the implications and effects of steroids.

The program will target students ranging from grades seven through 12.

“That’s where they start,” said Baxter, referring to the age that people become caught up in trying to achieve an ideal body image.

“People think it is just a sport related issue, for high-performance athletes, it’s not. A lot of these drugs are being used just for appearance.”

In fact, one of the highest growth rates of steroid users is actually among young women. Baxter explained that girls are now using steroids to “cut muscle” and tone their bodies.

“This is a program we can make improvements to as we go along,” Baxter added.

Online print surveys will also be distributed among parents, educators and coaches to evaluate the existing knowledge of performance enhancing drugs.

“We might find that they know a lot more than what we hope,” Baxter said.

Two Laurier athletes, Spencer Troop and Eleanor Whitney, work with the community service learning department to coordinate volunteers for the program. Their job is to recruit the eight students to take part in this pilot initiative.

“We’ll have lots of applicants for it and we wanted to make sure that we get athletes that are, a) interested in doing this and b) are people that can present particularly to young people,” said Baxter.

And that’s where Chuck Williams comes in.

Williams, a retired Waterloo principal, is responsible for creating the whole curriculum of PED awareness. Williams is going to train the 24 athletes in how to appropriately address the issue to the targeted group.

The athletes will have to learn aspects regarding the background of the audience, what kind of questions to expect and techniques on teaching the age groups.

“When you’re talking to a grade seven class it’s different than doing a presentation in business,” laughed Baxter. “We’ll be confident that [after training], our athletes will be ready to go.”

The initiative is also seeing increased support form the Waterloo Regional Police, particularly the chief of police, Matt Torigian.

Torigian initially assembled Baxter, Williams, Bob Copeland of UW athletics and Steve Spott of the Kitchener Rangers back in the spring to discuss the project.

“It just makes sense that we do it together,” Baxter said.

“Athletes giving back,” he smiled.

The program is among the first in Canada to incorporate student volunteers in educating youth on drug-related issues of high-level athletics.

Despite the use of drugs, the CCES believes education and discussion need to occur at a young age so that students may make more informed decisions.

Baxter is excited about this collaboration in the CCES and hopes that the program will be replicated across the country for years to come.

“That’s what is all about,” he said. “What you learn here and what you can make a difference with later on.

“That’s called leadership.”

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