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Conference on alcohol, sports explores link

During a three-day conference this weekend at the Omni Hotel, student athletes, coaches and administrators from 21 higher education institutions discussed whether athletes are at a higher risk for substance abuse because of the prevalence of alcohol in sports culture -- and what to do about it.

"The basic attitude is, 'If you lose, let's go out and have a couple of beers. If you win, let's go out and have a couple of beers,'" said Joe Gieck, University director of sports medicine.

In an effort to address the problem of student athlete substance abuse on college campuses, the University's Institute for Substance Abuse Studies sponsored the Athletic Prevention Programming and Leadership Education Conference this weekend.

In his opening remarks, University Athletic Director Terry Holland touted the program, APPLE, as "a chance to make a difference in the life of someone else."

APPLE is the brainchild of Gieck and the late Susan J. Grossman, who was ISAS Director of Prevention Services. Grossman succumbed to lung cancer last year. Alison Houser, Interim Director for ISAS, now is acting as a project coordinator, along with Gieck. Gieck and Grossman launched APPLE nine years ago after attending a similar conference, which they deemed ineffective in involving student athletes, coaches and administrators in drug and alcohol prevention efforts, Gieck said in his speech at the conference.

The APPLE project's mission is to assist colleges and universities across America in developing effective prevention programming. According to Gieck, successful substance abuse deterrence programs integrate peer mentoring, education, counseling and enforcement of department policies, including drug testing.

This year, coaches, athletes and administrators from 21 colleges and universities around the nation attended the conference. These schools included Washington & Lee, Rutgers University, SUNY-New Palz, the University of Portland and the University of Arkansas.

The conference kicked off with a dinner in the Omni Hotel ballroom Friday, followed by an overview of the APPLE project and a program entitled "Building a Community of Respect," led by Assoc. Education Prof. Robert Covert, Hilda Ward, Student Health peer education coordinator, and graduate Education student Allen Saunders.

Covert, Saunders and Ward challenged student athletes to be nonjudgmental in their dealings with teammates. Students were encouraged to discuss how they and their teammates best could give and receive respect.

Prior to the conference, representatives from the attending colleges were asked to fill out a survey detailing various aspects of their existing substance abuse prevention programs. APPLE then evaluated the programs to draw attention to areas in need of improvement.

After the conference, the schools are expected to revise their prevention programs using suggestions made by APPLE. APPLE will administer two follow-up surveys during the year to track their progress.

The conference also featured an overview of SAM, the University's student athlete mentor program, and presentations by University women's basketball coach Debbie Ryan, Olympic gold medallist Billy Mills and Craig Littlepage, University senior associate director of athletics.