AUSTIN, Texas — Houston Sterling High School was placed on two years' probation and given a public reprimand Monday by Texas' governing body for high school sports for giving athletes advance warning of a pending steroids test, a violation of state law.
Sterling interim principal Sam Dominguez and school officials apologized to the University Interscholastic League at a disciplinary hearing in Austin. They said the phone calls to students the night before the test in November was a misunderstanding of testing rules and not an attempt to cheat.
It was the first time Sterling had been chosen for steroid testing, which is conducted on behalf of the UIL by the National Center for Drug Free Sport.
"We made a mistake, but it was not out of malice," Dominguez said.
Although a violation of state law, school officials were not subject to a criminal penalty because punishment is left up to the UIL, which could have banned Sterling from competition.
Testing rules require the drug testing company to notify schools 24 to 48 hours before arriving on campus. Only a handful of school officials are supposed to know they are coming and they are forbidden from notifying students, who can be banned from competition if they test positive.
A student can also be considered as having a positive test if they skip the test or are absent the day the tests are conducted.
Dominguez said Sterling officials worried that absent students would be punished, so they called their families to tell them the tests would be the next day.
According to the UIL, the school self-reported the violation when they realized they had broken the rules.
Mike Motheral, the superintendent of Sundown Independent School District, and other members of the UIL executive committee criticized Sterling officials for not knowing all the rules of the testing program, which began in 2008.
Placing Sterling on probation means the school could face stiffer penalties if it's caught breaking the rules again during the next two years.
Although the school could have faced much harsher penalties, the UIL didn't want to punish the athletes for the adults' mistake.
"We're not going to penalize kids. It's not their fault," Motheral said.
Texas' steroid testing program was the largest of its kind in country when it began, but the program has been significantly scaled down after the first 50,000 tests yielded only about 30 positive tests.
The state earlier this year restructured the program to focus only on a few sports, including football, baseball and track.