One would think the steroid issue would have evaporated (or deflated) back in the 1980s when the rumored side-effects included shrunken testicles and the development of male breasts. But tell that to Coach Klapp, who today would resemble the superhero The Thing in the recent movie “Fantastic Four.” He was large, ripped as they say. Veins sprouted like roots down his muscular arms and legs. His clothes fought desperately to hold back the swelling. Coach Klapp, in his mid-40s back then, was my 7th grade P. E. teacher at Cocopah Middle School in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was also an admitted anabolic steroid user for 40 years and was eventually convicted of selling the drug. In 1997, he spent 22 months in federal prison.

We didn’t know it at the time. Coach Bob Klapp never dropped trou and injected himself with a needle while showing us the fundamentals of kickball. Nor did he pop a pill before blowing the whistle for that annoying mile run around the playground. But there were rumors, and his bulky body notwithstanding, more subtle evidence. He was angry a lot, but of course, that could be associated with any P. E. teacher trying to keep fit a bunch of lazy adolescents. There were also tales of him beating up potential suitors for his teenage daughter. It was enough to either steer clear of Coach Klapp due to fear of his wrath, or be drawn to his larger-than-life persona. Me and my string-bean body stayed away. Some of my friends didn’t.

In an article published in the Phoenix New Times two years ago Klapp was interviewed on his staunch pro-steroid stance. Age 66 at the time and still described as healthy and incredibly “chiseled,” he recommended anabolic steroids to male adults and said he never once suggested steroids to non-family members under 18. By way of Klapp or not, by the time I got to high school there were teenagers with body mass an ape would envy. The varsity football team was monstrous. I used to chalk it up to me being a puny freshman and everything around me would therefore assume a larger stature. But I know better now.

Something in the article on Klapp nerved me a bit. He said science has since learned that anabolic steroid use during male puberty can give the male body a size, speed, and power boost that won’t disappear once the drug is no longer taken. He doesn’t stop short of insinuating he suggested his three grandsons take the illegal drug.

Klapp may be right; he does have 40 years experience in the field. But what he fails to understand and what young athletes don’t comprehend is the moralistic and ethical ramifications involved with taking steroids. First off, most anabolic steroids are illegal. Taking them would mean you’re breaking the law and you could find yourself acting as a warm pillow for a lonely convicted chainsaw murderer in prison. Second, taking them means you have instilled an unfair advantage in yourself over an opponent or teammate. You’re cheating, and you’ll always have that hanging over your balloon-inflated head. If the potential health concerns don’t prevent you from using, perhaps your integrity will. If you can’t win without steroids, then you can’t win. I don’t care how looped up your opponent may be, let him live with the shame.

It’s enlightening to see that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has recently taken on an education initiative on steroid use. The IHSA is distributing a multimedia package of DVDs, brochures and posters to help educate coaches and athletes about the negative effects of steroids.

Somewhere Coach Klapp just swallowed his whistle.


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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...