Thursday, July 23, 2009

Taylor Hooton Foundation/PBATS Fitness Clinic

Returning for the second consecutive year to Nationals Park, Our Washington Nationals, The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) and The Taylor Hooton Foundation teamed up on Wednesday Morning July 22nd to help inform D.C. area youngsters on the proper training habits of a healthy lifestyle while educating the real dangers of performance enhancing drugs.

You may recall Nats320's report last summer from South Capitol Street including the touching story of Taylor Hooton, a rising high school baseball player from Plano, Texas who sadly took his own life, confused over the effects, the changes to his body and mental anguish brought on by taking steroids. Taylor's Dad, Don, has since that very day his son passed, devoted the rest of his life's work to reach out to children and kids across America to, hopefully, prevent other parents from feeling that same anguish and pain his family has suffered through. An escalating problem--still not resolved.

Thanks to Major League Baseball & PBATS--clinics are held throughout most all 30 Major League Cites. Mr. Hooton not only travels to educate and inform thousands of kids, but he also speaks at schools, minor league ballparks and facilities and is even working with The Federal Government to see if those on Capitol Hill can help provide a National Presence to spread the word.

For over two hours on July 22nd, Mr. Hooton, Washington Nationals Head Trainer Lee Kuntz, Assistant Trainer Mike McGowan, Players Willie Harris and Garrett Mock formed a new team. One devoted to working out the right way with health and nutrition--not by injecting oneself, popping pills or spreading gels to get ahead in life--or to simply look better.

Don Hooton spoke for about 15 minutes with the assembled children and their parents--spreading the word, telling of the dangers while informing everyone of his personal involvement--and why. Then, three groups were formed. Kuntz & McGowan led the youngsters through on-field training routines. The proper flexibility and cardiovascular techniques needed to train properly. Willie Harris and Garrett Mock sat down with the kids in The Home Dugout at Nationals Park to take on all questions and relate how hard it is to be a professional--both on and off the field of play. And the very necessary mental skills needed to succeed at anything in life.

If you haven't read last year's story and interview with Don Hooton, we encourage you to do so before continuing with this post. Then come back and read the update interview conducted yesterday with Mr. Hooton before the clinic began. One year later, The Taylor Hooton Foundation is making progress, but is surprisingly still seeing resistance from adult supervisors all across these United States Of America.

Please read last year's story for the complete background and history, then come back for Don Hooton's update which begins right here:

In the past year since we last talked, what have been the good impacts you have witnessed by your efforts—and the frustrating parts as well? (SBF)

“I think we are doing better than I probably think we are. We’ve talked directly to 75,000 kids. But it is never as much as we would like it to be. We’ve got millions of kids to reach. We’ve figured it’s close to 800,000 to 1 million kids using these performance-enhancing drugs. Our goal is to get into 10,000 high schools with our education program. We count ours in the dozens, maybe a couple of hundreds—so we’ve got a long way to go, but our biggest challenge is getting past some of the gatekeepers (school systems) who don’t believe we (Taylor Hooton Foundation) need to be there because they don’t think they have a problem with performance enhancing drug use in their schools. So, that is the biggest hurdle we are trying to get past right now.”

Does that surprise you that school systems might be turning a blind eye to this issue? (SBF)

“Yes it does surprise me--frankly. It very much surprises me. We are in a prevention program, just like the guys that talk about marijuana or heroin or anything else and you don’t have to have a heroin problem in your schools to have people come in and talk about why you shouldn’t do heroin. I am not quite sure why we see the resistance we do to performance enhancing drug use except somehow, some of these officials feel that if they let us in they are somehow admitting they have a problem in their athletic programs—that’s really not what we are about.”

So that means you must be trying to find alternative ways to reach out and get your story told? (SBF)

“We are working through the Federal Government. We hope they can send a message from the top that steroids and performance enhancing drugs education is important. We are trying to come in with the more general school administrators—the drug education officers, the counselors and principals—because it’s not just the athletes that are doing this stuff. We don’t need to be shoved off to the athletic directors because the current studies show that 50% to 60% of the steroid usage is with non-athletes. These kids that are using this stuff to look better. They have no interest in playing football or baseball or whatever the sport is. They just want to compete with the guys that look beefed up that get the chicks!!”

“And then the other thing that surprises most people is the fastest growing user group and they are little girls. The 14 & 15-year-old girls are doing this stuff to get six-pack abs. I mean it is just crazy!!”

Before we started this conversation, you mentioned instead of trying to be all encompassing in your approach, you are looking to target specific areas. Can you be more specific? (SBF)

“One of our current areas of focus, besides running at the schools in general, is working with several of the professional league franchises and hopefully—and we are pretty optimistic—developing a couple of partnerships where we will go in and focus on a particular community. So, we are here with The Nationals today. We were with The New York Yankees earlier this week. Maybe, we can end up with a Nationals sponsored program here is Washington, D.C. Or a Yankees sponsored program in New York where we are going in with the local Major League Baseball Franchise to talk to kids. We are then going in with a role model and delivering a real positive message why these kids should not be fooling with this stuff. By hook or by crook, whatever we got to do to get in front of kids, we are going to do it.”

Is it hard to realize you may need a player, let’s say The Nationals in this case, to hear you out? (SBF)

“It is very frustrating, very frustrating. Of course, everybody has budget problems, that’s one of the issues. It costs dollars to put these programs on—but not that much. But it is frustrating. People see all of this stuff going on in the national news. You can list the players that have got caught with this stuff. But they somehow don’t associate it with their kids. And the kids are following these role model leads and are injecting themselves with what are hardcore anabolic steroids. But if you don’t recognize you have a problem, or admit you have a problem, then it is difficult to get people to focus on dealing with it.”

“Even when you get injuries, everybody wants to assume it is just a one off type of thing. It’s just one kid. In our case back in Plano, Texas—there was just one kid, Taylor (Don’s Son). Well, when we talked to the kids, it’s a whole lot more than that. And in the case of Taylor’s team it was half the boys on the baseball squad. But we wanted to dismiss these things because it was just one kid with an injury. Or, it was just one kid that got sick or hurt themselves.”

Does Manny Ramirez being suspended for 50 games this season help you in an odd sort of way? (SBF)

“Oh, it’s not in an odd way. It is a very real way of assistance. He helped put this issue back on the front pages—at least the sport section—because when people are talking about the problem, we have the opportunity to respond and we get opportunities to get news interviews and interest is heightened. If there is nobody on the front page of the paper, if there is no screaming headline in our society these days, we just don’t seem to care and only wish for these issues to go away. And it’s not going away.”

How do you feel about major sports stars that are implicated as users and keep on denying it? (SBF)

“There is denial, although a lot of that has stopped. But, of course, everyone that is caught denies it—with few exceptions. But the thing that concerns me with Manny (Ramirez)--it wasn’t that he got caught, but it was the--what is wrong with that type of response? ‘Everybody is doing it!’ ‘I didn’t kill anybody!’ ‘It was just steroids!’ And if you really think about it, if he (Manny Ramirez) is really a role model for our children, then what are our kids now hearing from him? There really is nothing wrong with it and I didn’t kill anybody, what’s the big deal? That’s just simply sending the wrong message. So that makes it very difficult to get to these knuckleheads and counteract that message. And the sad thing is that nobody is talking to these kids to counteract that. We are trying, but we have seen resistance. Recent studies have shown that 85% of our children have never had a parent, a coach or teacher talk with them about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs.”

“So what do they get? A Manny Ramirez telling them what’s the big deal? And nobody counteracting that this stuff can kill you! It’s shameful. And what we forget about is that this is a felony. Most of these performance-enhancing drugs are a felony without a legitimate prescription. And by the way—hitting a long ball farther is not a legitimate reason for a prescription for anabolic steroids. It is a felony and we ought to be talking, in some cases, about how many years in the federal penitentiary some of these guys need to be spending there. And not just dismissing this as--fans don’t care—or it sells more seats. And that is the major part of the challenge we’ve got in dealing with this problem.”

Including the escalating usage by young girls which seems pretty amazing? (SBF)

“Really scary, but it is an indication that this thing has changed and has moved out of the locker room and it’s now moved into the social hallways. We have got to put a stop to it.”

With that final answer--Our Update With Don Hooton ended.

Performance enhancing drugs are a scary issue, no doubt. Let's hope parents, school officials, adult supervisors and coaches can one day all come together, get on the same page, and help to eliminate a still escalating problem that seemingly has yet to reach its pinnacle in American Society. No, this issue is not going away anytime soon. The peer pressure on youngsters is still to great--unless more get involved to educate and prevent it.

The fitness clinic ended with a Home Run Hitting Contest for all kids. Standing in rightfield, Willie Harris tossed rubberized baseballs to the children who attempted to knock them over the padded wall or into Washington's Bullpen.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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