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.