Stress may be leading some Naperville student athletes to use drugs
By David Sharos For The Sun November 9, 2012 12:00PM
Naperville Central head football coach Mike Stine talks about his family experiences Friday during a training session on student athletes and substance abuse. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:35AM
Drug use among student athletes is a problem that residents in Naperville need to be aware of, according to experts at a special forum in the city Friday morning.
The Rosecrance Health Network elected to focus on drug use among student athletes at the workshop held at the Northern Illinois Naperville Campus on Diehl Road.
The event featured noted “mental coach” Marc Anderson and Naperville Central’s football and girls’ track coach Mike Stine.
Stine’s perspective came from personal experience, as he spoke about his son, who requested he be admitted into a substance abuse program while in college.
“My son was a straight ‘A’ student and a successful wrestler who finally told us he needed to go into rehab,” Stine said. “Athletes are often under added pressure to perform, and like an adult who has a bad day and stops off to have a drink, kids also need an outlet. They, too, are looking for that release in order to feel better.”
The workshop drew nearly 60 people including Karl Costello, the athletic director at Niles North High School who said that drug issues and the media attention they attract only escalate after high school.
“We need to work with athletes at the high school level in what is more of an educational setting so they can make good choices, and we can use participation as leverage,” Costello said.
Naperville North Athletic Director Jim Konrad said “a lot of drug use among athletes goes unnoticed” and that professionals need to help them “to focus on how to avoid problems.”
“I used to work in the Dean’s Office before I became an athletic director, and I saw a lot of kids make poor choices,” he said. “The facts are that athletes are involved just as much as other kids regarding drugs and while we have the athletic code in place, it’s not enough. Drug use is becoming a bigger problem.”
Naperville resident Amanda Kunzer, who works for Catholic Charities and also as a drug and alcohol counselor, said she has worked in the field for 10 years and that over that time “drug use has gotten 10 times worse.”
“We all need to increase our awareness about these issues, and with athletes, there are always risks regarding performance drugs and steroids,” Kunzer said. “Athletes tend to look for an edge, and the use of over-the-counter substances is really tempting. Today, more of our youth here in Naperville are getting into heroin, and it’s getting a lot easier to obtain. Kids today are under a lot of pressure.”
Looking to help
The workshop, called “Student Athletes as Substance Abusers,” gave social workers, teachers, guidance counselors and social workers a chance to understand better how drugs are affecting youngsters’ lives.
Rosecrance Network Director of Communication Judy Emerson said professionals “need tools to help kids cope with drug use.”
“Our goal here is awareness and trying to help those people who work the closest with kids know what to look for, whether it’s with the athletes themselves or when kids become aware of others around them that are using these substances,” Emerson said.
Anderson said his “mental coaching” is an offshoot of sports psychology. Athletes, he said, have undergone “a critical shift” and have “blended in as users as much as non-athletes.”
“Years ago, athletes stayed away from these substances and now they have blended in and often think they can use these drugs without any ill effects,” Anderson said. “Statistics show that athletes are using just as much as others.”
and they are also in denial. We need to have a code of conduct and while we’re not here to punish athletes, they do need to be held accountable.”
Anderson’s presentation included topics such as the psychological and performance effects from drug use, as well as reasons for using them as well as their consequences.
“There is also the enabling piece of this in that athletes who volunteer that they are using are often not made to face the same consequences or they sit out portions of another sports season than the one where their violation occurred,” he said. “It’s all about accountability. If we don’t deal with these issues now, these kids move on to college and a bigger stage, and those are the people we wind up reading about in the paper.”