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A Steroid Scandal Hits A Suburban New Jersey High School

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On Monday March 12, law enforcement authorities from Morris County, NJ announced the details surrounding the latest edition of the steroids in sports scandal, and for a change pro athletes weren’t at the center of the storm.

This scandal involves a 24-year-old volunteer high school football coach at Hanover Park High School and personal trainer, Anthony Cuppari, who faces 15 counts of conspiracy to manufacture, possess or distribute steroids and GHB (also known as the “date rape” drug).

This coach is also accused of selling steroids to a 17-year-old member of the Hanover Park football team. This 17-year-old has also been charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute steroids and GHB.

At a news conference held on Monday afternoon, the Morris County Prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio told the story of how police from East Hanover, Hanover, and Florham Park had busted a 16-person drug ring that was built around a basement lab that was stocked with 500 steroid pills and enough supplies to make 35,000 doses of steroids. The lab was in the home of Michael Dente, a Hanover Park high school classmate of Cuppari’s, and was equipped with a pill press, bottles, a printer that could produce authentic-looking labels and hand crimps that created an air-tight seal on bottles used to hold liquid drugs.

The operators of the lab were in the process of producing home-brew versions of popular painkillers and erectile dysfunction drugs. In case you haven’t heard, drug dealers are drug dealers and the local steroid dealer is the local pill dealer, coke dealer and pot dealer.

While this is a local, high school drug scandal the cast of characters and the methods of operation are remarkably similar to that of the high-profile drug scandals that have featured professional athletes over the years. We have body builders, local gym rats who think that they know how to train athletes because they use drugs, prescription drugs, recreational drugs and firearms.

Remember folks, body builders have no business hanging around with real athletes, and anytime body builders are hanging around real athletes, trouble is sure to follow.

The Hanover Park scandal is a sign of the times — little boys imitating the big boys. Kids who think that somehow they are smarter than everyone else and that think they know the secrets of success. Buffoons of the MySpace.com generation.

This scandal is both shocking and tragic. Sure, it might be shocking to some that a house in a nice suburban neighborhood could be home to a lab that’s out of the movie Scarface. But I find it more shocking that a person so obviously unqualified to work with high school kids was allowed to work with high school kids.

In one of the many news accounts covering the story, it was revealed that the Hanover Park school system does not require their district’s volunteer coaches to undergo any kind of background checks, and that the head coach of the given sport is responsible for the actions of the volunteer coaches. This may be one of the most egregious breaches of the public trust that I have heard of in recent years, and it is disgraceful that in this day and age a school district doesn’t subject their volunteer coaches to the exact same scrutiny faced by paid coaches. I suspect that this policy will change immediately.

What makes this story shocking is what makes it so tragic. An unqualified, volunteer coach involved with the manufacturing and distribution of steroids has access to, and sells steroids to at least one of the kids he is responsible for. As a matter of fact, Cuppari was this high school kid’s personal trainer at a local gym. As another heads up, local gyms – and the Internet – are places where steroids and other drugs change hands with regularity.

Since Cuppari had access to the kids on the Hanover Park football team, you have to wonder what other kids were tempted by what their coach and a teammate had to offer. Cuppari was on the sidelines during games and was a part of the team’s coaching staff. He had access to every kid in the Hanover Park football program.

And here’s where this story gets even more interesting.

I'm a coach in a neighboring town, a conference rival of Hanover Park in all sports. I saw up close and personal what the Hanover Park team looked like. I walked across the field and shook the hand of the coach in question.

We heard some rumors and rumblings from the grapevine, and the local newspaper’s high school football preview emphasized that the 2006 HP Hornets had changed their offense to a run-oriented, power football style of play that was designed to take advantage of the fact that HP thought they were bigger and stronger than everyone else.

And during the 2006 season HP followed through on their promise to jam the ball down the throats of their opponents. They were very big and strong, and even though they struggled, they won with the simple formula of running the ball and bodying up with their opponents. Every article about Hanover Park mentioned how big and strong and powerful they were.

I’m not saying the HP coaches knew that their kids were using steroids, but they did notice the physical difference to the point where they changed their offense to take advantage of their players' newfound physical stature.

Based on what I heard and saw during the 2006 football season – especially compared to the 2004 and 2005 seasons – I wasn’t surprised when I read about this scandal. Being around high school guys all the time, you just know the difference between a big kid and a kid that’s just too big. Kind of like how a currency expert can spot bad counterfeit money or a stamp expert knows when he’s looking at a fake, rare stamp.

It’s really kind of sad – but I guess it’s fitting – that kids are going to be suspected of cheating, just like the pros are. These kids idolize the pros, so I guess they’re going to try and do everything that the pros do.

The only answer now is mandatory drug testing for all high school athletes. As a high school coach, I welcome mandatory testing. I don’t want any surprises. The guys that I work with want to run a clean program and don’t want to have any of our kids get caught up in the nasty business of steroids. And if one of our kids is going to use steroids, we don’t want him on the team, but we do want him to get help.

We also don’t want to have our kids get cheated by kids who are going to break rules and take extraordinary measures to win.

Mandatory drug testing is what we need.

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About Sal Marinello

  • I definitely agree with you that mandatory testing is needed in sports.

    I do ask you to be careful with your wording. To me, it sounds like you accused (basically convicted) the entire team of doing steroids. I know that you are too much of a profession to speak ill of H.S. kids like and no member of any Chatham coaching staff would ever speak of a true H.S. athlete in such a negative way.

    Also, given your position as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, you should be very careful of lashing out at other schools. Maybe one day one of your kids will be involved in illegal drug use. Maybe not in high school, but in years after. You know as well as anyone, and you emphasis it your article, that the enhancement problem is there, always has been and, unfortunately always will be.

    I wish you luck and only hope that 100% of your kids to not tamper or get involved with performance enhancing drugs.

  • sal m

    if you’re uncomfortable speaking the truth to kids you aren’t doing them any favors, and if you aren’t comfortable with my straight forward assesment of the situation, that’s fine with me.

    i’m not sure what you are referring to when you say i spoke of an athlete in a negative way.

    i will not NOT lash out at other schools because someday someone at the school i’m associated with might be involved with drugs. that’s a coward’s approach. we do everything possible from an administrative and coaching standpoint to make sure this doesn’t happen.

    furthermore, the state of nj has implemented a drug policy that allows any teacher or coach to deal with a situation where they think a kid is on any kind of drug, that includes having the kid in question undergo a doctor’s examination and drug test.

    we do everything that we can to keep kids in the building and keep them away from the meatheads in the local gyms who fancy themselves experts because they’re body builders. there will always be a small group of kids who will look to do the wrong thing no matter what awareness of education programs are in place.

    what matters is that the school is as proactive as possible so that these instances can be minimized.

  • We’re on the same page when it comes to keeping things clean and our kids healthy and on the right path.

    Please understand that I want you, or any columnist, to speak his/her mind freely. I just ask that, as a coach, we try to use blanket statements. Only one student athlete was charged.

    The papers and many people focused this on HP (mostly on the football program), when maybe the focus should be on where the majority of these people are from? Maybe the gym itself?

    Although I think your column on this is a definite read, I would only hope that you were not intending to take a bold shot at the HP football program, or the other kids that are clean and work hard in the gym 6 days a week.

    Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. You can find my email on my site.

    All the best.

  • sal m

    i can’t get to your website from the url you list here.

    i don’t think i’m taking an unwarranted shot at anyone here, especially since i have first hand experience with the program.

    and while the local gym can be scrutinized, the bottom line is that regardless of where this coach was affiliated, he is an HP grad, was on the staff and on the sidelines at games. so the program and the school are primarily to blame.

  • familiarbystander

    I believe the article is balanced and straigthfoward. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is rare to see someone with the boldness to call it as they see it. Kudos to you.

  • Franciosa

    “I’m not saying the HP coaches knew that their kids were using steroids.” Are you serious, in what newspaper article has it said that the HP players were using steroids? No where. The only person who has said that a member of the hanover park football team is using steroids is YOU. There was 1 player who was caught with GHB (who was a player that only appeared in 4 games and appeared on only the kickoff team in those 4 games). Now how do you have the audacity to say that this team took steroids? Why because a VOLUNTEER coach took and sold steroids. Does this mean that the volunteer coach sold them to the players. Absolutely not. “Based on what I heard and saw during the 2006 football season – especially compared to the 2004 and 2005 seasons– I wasn’t surprised when I read about this scandal.” So now your comparing this years team to prior teams. How about saying last years Chatham team was on steroids? Last years team was a hell of a lot bigger then this years team and the team from 2 years ago. Could it of been that just like chatham, hanover had a couple of down years. Is a team supposed to stay the same size all throughout high school. You get better players, you get stronger players. You completely are taking a stab at Hanover Park High Schools football program and are taking things out of context. Your saying that Hanover Parks players are using steroids when nobody on the team was accused or convicted or even allegedly took steroids. So if you want to say that you heard from the grapevines you be my guess. And to compare Hanovers team this year to the prior 2 seasons is ludacris. So if someone from last years chatham team got caught wit GHB then this year i could of wrote on my blog, WOW! this years chatham team is a lot smaller then last years who went to the finals, and that team that went to the finals was a lot bigger then the year before that. Please dont say players are using steroids when NOBODY is.

  • sal m

    thanks for writing and for expressing your opinion, and doing so in a reasonable way considering the emotional nature of the subject.

    you can make all the accusations that you choose with regard to other programs, but the bottom line is that the coach at HP was busted as one of the major players in a major steroid ring, and a 17-year old member of the team was listed as one of the 16 people listed as having been arrested and charged.

    over the years i have heard rumors of several local teams – both good and bad – being on steroids. this is the only instance where a member of a coaching staff – in any capacity – was arrested for being part of a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute steroids and other drugs. it isn’t taking potshots when critical comments are made that are based on the issues at hand.

    i agree that it’s terrible that kids have to be under the cloud of suspicion because of the actions of perhaps a few people. unfortunately, this is what is going to happen in a case like this.

    thanks again for reading and writing.

  • Franciosa

    People keep wording it as a coach. It was a VOLUNTEER coach. There was not one time when this coach could be with the kids alone. Not to even mention that the VOLUNTEER coach didnt come to practice everyday because he was a VOLUNTEER. Lets not forget that the 17 year old charged in the matter was a personal friend of the coach outside of school. They lifted weights together. The kid who bought the GHB bought it for sleeping purposes to help let him sleep at night. You heard rumors? I hear rumors every year that this kid is on steroids or that kid is on steroids. According to your previous posts, you say that Hanover Parks gameplan was to pound the ball down the opponents throat whether they liked it or not cause they felt they were bigger and stronger. Let me ask you this, is that not West essex gameplan year in and year out every year? If someone got caught on that team any year would you be saying the same thing. Is it also possible that maybe Hanover had 3 good running backs and were a ground oriented team rather than a passing team?

  • sal m

    we agree that rumors are abundant. i also think we can agree that no other local team has had a coach – vlounteer or otherwise – busted as part of a steroid ring, and has been accused of selling to a kid on the team.

    i totally sympathize with you. your team’s achievements have been tainted by this situation. i hope for the sake of everyone that the damage is limited to as few people as possible.

  • Franciosa

    Thats true and i agree with that as well but the fact that in your article, not the comments section you have stated that Hanover park football players are on steroids. And you also state that you walked to shake hands with coach and you knew from the look of us? If you agree that only one player got caught, then why are you saying that there are players on the team who take steroids when not even the kid who got caught was caught with steroids. Let alone say that you knew by the look of the team.

  • john e

    you think that just because you’re a “strength and conditioning coach” you can tell a team is on steroids?
    It is so unprofessional to lash out at a HIGH SCHOOL team like this. It’s not our fault you were 2-8 this season.

  • sal m

    i respect that you disagree with my position, as you have done so in a fair manner. i’m just sharing my thoughts on a subject that i have been covering professionally and otherwise for over 20 years.

    i haven’t brought in the opinions of others, or written an anonymous hatchet job loaded with heresay; i’ve put my name on a piece that i stand by and can defend. as i said, of course you and others are free to disagree. with this kind of subject i EXPECTED to get a lot of disagreements.

    it comes with the territory.

    and as unfortunate as it is, when this kind of scandal hits people will wonder/think or flat out claim that others were using as well. i don’t say that everyone was on steroids, but that you have to wonder how many kids were tempted, or took advantage of this supply. that’s also what comes with the territory.

  • Franciosa

    You said in your article that you shook the hands of the coach in question. So to your belief you think that most of the kids were on steroids. The supply was not offered to the team. The 17 year old who was caught was not manufacturing anything or selling anything. He was simply a buyer. And he was not a buyer of steroids. He was a buyer of GHB. Now i am not saying that is good or healthy at all. I completely agree he should be penalized. But to say that you looked at the whole team in question is insane. Its not like the kids hung out with Cuppari outside of football practices trying to buy steroids. Like i said in a previous comment, the 17 year old was a personal friend of Cupparis outside of school. I just think the article is unfair to read if your not even an athlete at hanover park. Even if your just a member of the school, you feel insulted. And to think that your kids were cheated in the game against Hanover is just a complete shame.

  • Paul C

    Based on today’s laws, dealing with steroids in almost any fashion is an illegal activity. We should keep in mind that there is almost always more than one side to a story but only one side is usually heard. What a shame that this incident has been reported in such a fashion that the community, school and the alleged participants will pay a long lasting price even if the case proves to be largely unfounded. Unfortunately it seems to be more interesting to report and read bad news. If the facts of this case prove less damaging, would they be reported with equal zeal? The young men in question may well have participated in some form of illegal activity with steroids but the case seems to have been tried in the news with a guilty outcome before reaching the courts. Perhaps the bigger question is the privilege and responsibility of the news media to report fairly and accurately. This story was reported in such a way that the reader of printed news or viewer of TV news is led, with the help of dramatic reporting techniques, into thinking the negative accusations are fact. This happens at the national and international levels as well. I believe most people are fairly intelligent and do not need to be nudged, however how subtly and sublimely into a preconceived notion of the truth. The news should be reported, not manufactured or colored. Perhaps equal time and reporting space should be offered to those representing the other side of this as well as many other stories.

  • Evan Picariello

    we dominated your team this year. you guys are a joke and we’re gonna kill you guys again this year. so keep thinking we are on steroids. i’ll make sure i hurt everyone on your team severely, thanks clown, see you in the fall

  • Evan Picariello #50

    i think it’s a shame that your team was so bad this year you have to write about our team and question our success. i also think it’s a shame that after graduating 18 of our 22 starters, we’re still gonna abuse your team. you being their strength and conditioning coach, i highly advise you to find some “sauce” for your team because whatever it is you have them doing over there clearly isn’t working!

  • Evan Picariello

    I would like to appologize for my last two comments. After reading the article, I was heated and at the time it felt like the right thing to say. Looking back at it now, I realize it was stupid and I wish I could take back what I said. I respect Chatham and their football program, and wish them the best of luck this year. Our porgram works extremely hard year in and year out, and we deserve where we got last year. When you accuse us of something that isn’t true, I defend my team and i stand by my team, it’s just in my nature. I’m sorry again for what I’ve said and wish Chatham the best this year.

  • Sal,

    Interesting piece. Israel generally does not have high school sports programs, at least in Jerusalem and vicinity, so issues like steroids on the team do not seem to arise. But when discussing this with my own sons, my youngest made this comment:

    “Anytime a kid represents a school, you should expect steroids. You know, try to please everybody?”

    Out of the mouths of babes….

    “Pleasing everybody” shoots to the heart of the issue and is reflected in comments #15 & #16 above. The kid who wrote them (and the rest of his team) is trying to please a whole crowd of people – and it ain’t easy…

    Just some thoughts from a third of the world away.

    Shabbat Shalom,

  • hp

    joke is on you sal….nobody was found guilty. you should watch that your not sued with your big mouth!

  • comedian

    Didn’t Sal fail a steroid test himself?

  • Hp

    umm you should probably get educated on the subject.. and instead of saying you have a clean program and dissing hps program you should understand the people you are talking about. I know some of the people mentioned in this arcticle and your picking on people that did nothing wrong. WHile there might be a kid on your team taking performer inhancing drugs. Im telling you right now many kids i no from other schools were doing some kind of enhancer not saying full blown out steroids. If you arent posative about someone taking steroids on the HP Football team dont say it.. becaus i dont know the kids on your team im just going to take a shot in the dark and say that atleast ten of your football players were taking performer inhancing drugs. And don;t tell me im wrong because im doing the same thing you are doing

  • Hp

    “we do everything possible from an administrative and coaching standpoint to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
    does this mean even cover it up.? Noone was proven guilty and you attacked the hanover park football program for no apparent reason. if you want to write an arcticle write it about people that have been proven guilty like the ring leaders of producing them

  • native resident

    I like your quote, “Remember folks, body builders have no business hanging around with real athletes, and anytime body builders are hanging around real athletes, trouble is sure to follow.”, BUT what you need to remember is that athletes in europe – germany ( and in B.C. times, olympic athletes tried to increase testosterone from herbs), brought these performance enhancing compounds to the rest of the world because as early as the mid-1930’s, german athletes used them in the olympics.

    Steroids were initially derived from sports before being involved in “bodybuilding.” Bodybuilding is a “sport” that was introduced after most modern day sports were established.

  • native resident

    trust me, no school does “EVERYTHING” to make sure that their athletes are not on steroids.

    endless numbers of athletes in the tri-state area AND country, use prohormone supplements daily and no one knows.

    you might ask, “hey, how do you know?!”. well my friends, i WAS one of those athletes in high school. bigger and stronger than the rest but no one knew why! yes, i was tested (urine analysis) for performance enhancing substances & nothing showed up! these compounds are water soluble, when taken with kidney & liver protectants, are out of your body within one week.

    it just goes to show how much you coaches really know. yes, some kids work hard and get big, and some choose to ingest a substance that catalyze’s the anabolic effect of the body, but trust me, no coaches can tell who. the technology is at such an advanced level that dbol is available via dissolving strips. so before you criticize another teams athletic department, please understand that I can ASSURE you, every single athlete on your or any team isn’t 100% completely natural. some stop before the sport, others take their chances staying on (let’s be real, hardly any athletes get tested).

    do i agree that a FORM of punishment is needed? yes. do i believe that the punishable terms are suitable? not at all.

    steroids are the ONLY non-psychoactive drugs scheduled in there class.

    have a great day!