Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Taylor Hooton Foundation
Just over five years ago, on July 15th 2003, Taylor Hooton took his own life.
He's was just 17 Years Old.
Young Hooton was depressed, attempting to recover from his usage of anabolic steroids. Drugs taken on the words of his High School Coach "to get bigger" so Taylor could more effectively compete in athletics during his senior year at his Plano, Texas school.
Don Hooton--Taylor's Father, and his family--did not know of his son's drug usage--until the very end.
Unfortunately, it was too late to understand the ramifications and help their own son recover. The drugs had changed Taylor's body. Now off "The Juice", lethargy and hopelessness set in. His mental makeup--confused. Sadly, Taylor committed suicide. He hung himself. And Don Hooton vowed not let his son die a useless death. Mr. Hooton decided to do something about it. Get the word out, help other youngsters and their families to not go through a similar tragedy. What he found out was that he and his family were not alone. Other young athletes had suffered the same fate.
So,The Taylor Hooton Foundation was formed "dedicated to fighting the abuse of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs among America's Youth."
This story, like many others involving anabolic steroids and youths are heartbreaking. For four years now, Don Hooton has been speaking up, and with the assistance of Major League Baseball, The Commissioner's Office, and in cooperation with the Professional Baseball Trainers Society (PBATS) and The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation--Mr. Hooten travels the country preaching and teaching to youths and their coaches about the serious and dangerous side affects of anabolic steroids. How to train properly, through diet, exercise and a proper regimen.
Last week, this public awareness campaign known as PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) made a stop at New Nationals Park to instruct District kids on avoiding Steroids in their training.
Mr. Hooton was on hand to give one of his well known "Hoot's Chalk Talks"--straight talk with the kids on what to avoid, the dangers, and why their health is far more important than their game. Also on hand, were Lee Kuntz--Head Athletic Trainer for Our Washington Nationals, Assistant Trainer--Mike McGowan and Strength and Conditioning Coach Kazu Tomooka to instruct on proper training techniques. And two players from Our Washington Nationals--Saul Rivera and Wil Nieves--posted up to hammer home the importance of health, nutrition and doing it right.
For two hours, these kids from The DC Dynasty Baseball Program, listened intently and were instructed by these six special coaches. A worthwhile event, that quite frankly, I was surprised few main stream media outlets showed up to cover.
Don Hooton was very generous with his time and chatted with me by sharing his thoughts about his beloved Son, The Taylor Hooton Foundation and what needs to be done to help the thousands of youths in America--feeling the peer pressure to take a short cut to improve their physical structure. A perilous road not worth taking--for risk of your very own life.
With that, here we go with My Conversation With Mr. Don Hooton.
“What we found is that even with all the publicity that’s gone on with steroids over the last number of years, 85% of the kids, teenagers, still have not had a coach, a parent, a teacher—talk to them about the dangers of these drugs. And these kids are unfortunately starting as early as 13 or 14 years old with this stuff.”
“Somebody has got to be talking to them!!”
Its pressure, isn’t it, from many different sources? (SBF)
“It’s peer pressure primarily, but it’s pressure to make the team, coaches applying pressure, kids are applying pressure to themselves. There is pressure to get the scholarship. There is pressure in everything these kids do. They see their heroes, in whatever sport they are in. They are not dumb. They know how the guys and the gals have achieved their objectives. They have a substantial portion of their buddies fooling around with this stuff—so (they think), why not? No one is talking to them about why they shouldn’t.”
You see these young kids, sometimes 12 and 13 years old—attempting to throw the ball as fast as they can, or even worse—a curve ball without a developed elbow and…(SBF)
Yes, it’s ridiculous. What percentage of that comes from the pressure of not only trying to be as good as you can be, but from steroids? (SBF)
“You do have the youngsters that might be out in front of the rest of them, because of their growth cycle. And you do have some kids that are throwing hard, and the rest of them think they have to catch up with that. That’s were the problem arises. Physically, they can’t and a lot of them resort to drugs to try to bridge the gap.”
“It’s stupid, but then you have coaches that, and I grew up with a family of pitchers, with kids 12 & 13 years old trying to get their kids to throw curve balls, sliders. I am just not sure if they know any better or not—but they (the coaches) are ruining these kids’ pitching career. But, beyond the pitching, it is the drugs that the kids are getting into that we are concerned about.”
I have said for a long time, kids today do not have the proper coaching that you or I may have had growing up and many times, as you said, is where this problem starts because the coaches may only care about their personal gratification of winning for that particular youth team. (SBF)
“A lot of cases are like that. I talk to coaches and they claim not to know about this steroids problem. They somehow know that their kids are not doing steroids, but they don’t know the basics about the drugs. So, I get confused. If you don’t know, you need to be trained and an understanding that your kids are not doing drugs. These coaches are not properly equipped to train. One of the things we are arguing for—in a broader picture—is that a lot of the high school and sandlot coaches need to be certified. You have got to go to school and pass a test in order to cut someone’s hair, or to do a lady’s nails. But, we got coaches turned loose with a 13, 14 & 15 year old kids that haven’t had to pass anything, other than tell someone they played football, basketball or baseball in high school. It’s crazy, it really is and something has got to be done about it.”
“My youngest son, Taylor, died from anabolic steroids and we (his family) decided to do something about it. We didn’t know anything about these drugs. We had no idea how prevalent it was, nor how dangerous. And as a result, knew there were a lot of other parents that did not know that either. So, our whole purpose in life now is education, raising awareness and to raise the warning flags. We need to let people know that this stuff is going on.”
Did you know that your son was on steroids? (SBF)
“Not until right at the very end. Taylor quit doing steroids and, of course, what we learned is that the most dangerous time for a young kid—at least emotionally—is when they stop (doing steroids). Your body has stopped producing testosterone. And every reader who will be reading this story will know what testosterone does to a young boy normally, when he is 13 or 14 years old. Just imagine pulling the plug on that and you got a kid running around with ZERO Male Hormones. Just severe depression and it wound up getting to him.”
There is this other well-known story about The Garibali family from Petaluma, California. (SBF)
“The Garibaldi’s. Yes, I know them well. He was a starting right fielder for the USC Trojans and was being scouted by Major League Teams. One of the scouts told him—‘Son, you have all five tools that it takes to play Major League Baseball. You are just missing one thing. You need to gain 20 or 25 pounds.' And he went to a trainer at his college and a few days later they lined him up with anabolic steroids. He gained the weight and about one year later—he took a gun and shot himself. Very, very sad, and totally avoidable if educated and well meaning folks had been involved.”
“Taylor died five years and one month ago and we started The Foundation about four years ago. Major League Baseball has been our biggest supporter, and in this case, for three summers—this being the first—we are working with the athletic trainers to put on education programs for kids in all 30 (Big League) Parks.”
When the kids come today, what is going to happen? (SBF)
“Like a traditional baseball clinic, they are going to rotate through stations. At my station, I am going to talk to them about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs and why not to fool with this stuff. At the other stations, the athletic trainers, strength coaches and some of the Big League Players will be showing these kids how to achieve their objectives. The right way, the proper way, through diet, exercise and hard work. A lot of these kids don’t want to hear the words: ‘hard work’. So, they will get a multiple message. Not just why not to do drugs, but something a lot of coaches are not trained to do, to properly show the kid how to get bigger. You tell a kid to get bigger, and then the coach, having not been trained in diet and exercise, can’t show the kids how to do it properly. So, you end up with a 16 year old turned loose on his own devices—half of his buds are doing steroids. What do you think he is inclined to do?”
He is going to do what it takes to get ahead. (SBF)
You are a grass roots effort, moving forward. Do you believe you are having an impact? (SBF)
“We are making some impact, not nearly what we like. Our objective as a Foundation, which we are trying to kick off now, is an effort to try to reach 10,000 High Schools in the country—which is the overwhelming majority of the kids. In fact, we have a couple of meetings with a couple of Federal Government Agencies while here in Washington. We are out trying to raise private money so we can field the team that can instruct in these clinics—not 75 to 100 kids at a time (as here in DC)—but hopefully an auditorium full--in every single high school in America.”
“And fully understanding, that is quite the task, but somebody has got to do it. And it’s not happening now.”
As large of a task as it is, are you confident your Foundation can have a deep reach? (SBF)
“I think we have made a difference already. Between ourselves, The Garibaldi’s, The Marrero’s and several other families that have been through this great tragedy, we have been to Congress to share the needs. We have been in the newspapers. We are working with The Commissioner Of Baseball. We have raised awareness quite a bit, but it’s just scary that even with all of that progress—you still have got 85% of the kids not reached out to. Nobody has delivered the message. So we have a lot of work to do and I am confident we get this important job done.”
You seem to be handling all this OK? (SBF)
"It's not been easy, we have our moments (as a family). But knowing I am out here trying to make a difference from a personal tragedy. And knowing many others are living through the same pain--if The Taylor Hooton Foundation can stop other youngsters from going down this same tragic road--then all is not lost."
With that final answer, Mr. Don Hooton turned to chat and answer the many questions from the gathered youths of The DC Dynasty Baseball Program at New Nationals Park. Knowing, his Son, Taylor, had sent him down a new life's quest of his own--Keeping America's Youth's off Anabolic Steroids.
If you wish to donate to The Taylor Hooton Foundation--you can contact the Foundation at this link. I can't tell you how honored I was to meet this wonderful man.
PS--And if you were wondering, Taylor Hooton is a cousin of Former Major League Pitcher Burt Hooton.