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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 18, 2008

At Voorheesville
Five football players suspended for use of performance-enhancing drugs

By Jordan J. Michael

VOORHEESVILLE –– The Voorheesville School District suspended five varsity football players last week for using performance-enhancing drugs.

“We had to suspend five players for 10 days. We suspended the players as the information became available to us,” said Head Coach Joe Sapienza. “The information regarded a code-of-conduct violation.”

“Five of my teammates were suspended last week for taking some weird stuff,” said Jevan Dollard, a player on the team. “Some of the guys who were caught up in this were friends, but not all of them…. One of the guys had to make a trip to the hospital.”

Voorheesville’s interim superintendent, Raymond Colucciello, said that the drugs used by the five players were “over-the-counter, non-prescription substances.”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss if a player did or did not go to the hospital because he was sick from these drugs,” Colucciello said.

He said that he was not a pharmacist and that he had no idea what the drugs were exactly.

“I would call them designer drugs,” said Mark Diefendorf, Voorheesville’s high school principal. “They’re close to being illegal.” He said of the companies that develop such drugs, “They change the molecular structure. They’re just one step ahead of the law.”

He also said, in light of the suspensions, the district will hold a community forum on performance-enhancing drugs before the winter sports’ season starts.

“It’s something that’s reflected in our society,” Diefendorf said of designer-drug use. “It’s like the lottery mentality that you can get everything done quickly, become a success quickly, and we see, in professional sports and professional business, [people] trying to get ahead quickly and getting an advantage. And we see it with our young people now, looking for ways to get one up on somebody else…It’s rather distressing but nevertheless schools are a microcosm of what goes on in the rest of society so we deal with it. We use it as an educational opportunity to talk about these things.

“At the same time, I don’t think it’s different than any place else, and in other schools in the area. We’re just trying to hold the line and make sure kids are making the right choices.”

Code of Conduct

Sapienza said that the punishment was “pretty much automatic,” leaving the coach with a little discretion. Voorheesville lost Saturday’s game to Watervliet, 54 to 7.

“We will have all five players back after two games,” Sapienza said. “It will impact two games.”

“This was a horrible event; it is really detrimental to the team. Those players and the team are facing a lot of adversity,” said Dollard. Then, after a captain suffered a knee injury in practice this week, he said, “We’re feeling pretty down.”

Sapienza declined to comment on how the drug use or suspensions had affected team morale. “I just really want to respect the confidentiality and families of the minors involved,” he said. Sapienza believes the suspended players’ families were supportive of his decision.

Diefendorf said that it is easy to look the other way to win. “We always want our families to support us in what we do,” he said. “It makes whatever discipline or whatever course of action a lot easier.”

He said of the decision to discipline the players, “It was really done in collaboration with myself and Ray Colucciello, the interim superintendent. We were all kept abreast of what was going on and all the facts and were solid with what we saw as the discipline to communicate a message to everybody as well as to those specific individuals.”

 Diefendorf went on, “We’ve done it in the past. It’s just something you don’t publicize …I would say the majority of the schools would do it. Some of the bigger schools probably have the focus on winning at all costs but with Mr. Sapienza, knowing him for many years, I know he’s not one of those people and certainly supports the idea that these things shouldn’t be done. But, when they are done, they certainly are something that we want to react to but also do something proactive.”

Sapienza, who has coached for 20 years and been Voorheesville’s head coach for 15, said he had dealt with code-of-conduct violations before but would not elaborate.

The only guidance offered by the district’s Extra-Curricular Activities Code of Conduct is this: “Student involvement in the extra-curricular program shall be deemed to be an acceptance of a lifestyle which supports the philosophy that a student should have a sound, healthy mind and body and the responsibility and commitment associated with this philosophy.”

The Code of Conduct never mentions anything about drugs or alcohol. Colucciello said that this is a broad statement, leaving many questions.

“It is broad and when it was written it was meant to give most of the discretion to the coach,” said Colucciello, a retired educator who regularly fills in as an interim administrator. “Other districts might be different. This is my 10th district, so I’ve seen many different codes of conduct.”

The matter was dealt with by the Voorheesville School District and not by the police because the substances the players took were not illegal.

It is not known if the football players were tested for the substances. “I can’t confirm or deny if the players were tested or not,” said Colucciello.

Forum planned

 “In general, throughout the country, these young people have been involved in this and our job as an educational institution is to help benefit them over the long haul,” said Colucciello. “That is our primary goal here.”

Diefendorf said that he and Colucciello discussed yesterday having a community forum on the use of performance- enhancing drugs before the winter sports’ season starts on Dec. 1.

“In the past,” he said, “we’ve had things with drugs and cyber-bullying and also child predators on the Internet and so this seems like this is an appropriate time for a community forum before our winter sports season starts, because it’s not just football. It could be any other sport because it’s just about enhancing your performance and making you better, faster, stronger, bigger — that’s what it’s all about.”

 “We need to make sure that parents and students understand what is going on,” said Colucciello. “We will clearly do that.

“These young athletes don’t have a good knowledge of what side-effects come with these over-the-counter drugs,” he said. “They need to know what is good and what is bad for them.”

“People who want to enhance their performance as athletes have to be careful as to how they go about it,” Colucciello added. “We have a wellness program that we are unveiling and this is a piece of wellness for young people.”

Colucciello doesn’t look at this trouble with the football team as a disappointment; he sees this as an opportunity to make things better in the community. “I don’t spend a lot of time on disappointment,” he said. “I spend more time on how we can make young people grow.”

— Melissa Hale-Spencer interviewed and wrote about Mark Diefendorf and Joe Sapienza.

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