Matt Walentuk

Matt Walentuk

PLATTSBURGH — Vaping has emerged as a prominent tendency among today’s youth, and student-athletes are no exception.

“It’s become a trend nationally, and it’s become a trend in our area,” Section VII Executive Director Matt Walentuk said.

“We can’t be fooled that North Country youth, and athletes, specifically, are not exposed to vaping.

“It’s here, and it’s a problem.”

CONSEQUENCES OF VAPING

Section VII relies on schools to discipline their student-athletes for vaping or any other type of misconduct regarding tobacco use, alcohol consumption or other drug paraphernalia.

Consequences vary from school to school based on athletic code of conduct contracts, but regardless, the main focus centers on preventing student-athletes from abusing drugs and alcohol.

At Saranac, vaping is considered a contract violation of its athletic code of conduct.

“Vaping is just like a violation of any other tobacco rule we have,” Saranac Athletic Director Brent Denis said. “In our handbook, it’s chemical free rules, and vaping falls under that category because of the nicotine content in the vape.”

‘WE WANT TO HELP THESE KIDS’

In accordance to Saranac’s athletic contract, a student-athlete caught with vaping products or actively vaping will lose eligibility to participate in interscholastic events, and the length of suspension will be based on one-third of the interscholastic league season.

Repeat offenders will be subject to extended suspensions.

If Saranac student-athletes found guilty of a contract violation are cooperative, honest and willing to enroll in a school-approved counseling program, their suspension may be reduced.

“We want to help these kids if they need it,” Denis said. “If receiving counseling can reduce a suspension, that can serve as an incentive to keep kids from vaping.”

WHY ARE ATHLETES VAPING?

While deterring vaping remains a top priority for athletic directors and school administrators, figuring out why student-athletes may use vape products is another pressing matter.

Reasons may vary, but some theories have been established.

“From an athletic point of view, we have several kids we come across during the course of the year (with vaping products), and one of the reasons they are using it is for that high they might get right before a game,” Plattsburgh High Assistant Principal and Co-Athletic Director Jim Manchester said.

“A big problem is these companies are targeting the youth with the colors of the products and flavors you can use to vape. They try and make it extremely appealing.”

Similar to Saranac, Plattsburgh High implements its own athletic contract and administers athletic suspensions if student-athletes are caught vaping.

PREVENTION STRATEGIES

With limited information regarding vaping side effects, the unknown factor is not being ignored.

Jeff Sisson, Champlain Valley Educational Services’ health, safety and risk management specialist, said it’s important to act now and help prevent vaping.

“Whether its students participating in sports or anyone else, an interesting note is we were seeing data showing that younger generations were less and less addicted to nicotine,” Sisson said.

“Now with vaping, those numbers are starting to go back up, which is extremely worrisome.”

Sisson said he knows of one local school that has installed vape detectors in its bathrooms to help prevent vaping.

Focusing on students involved in sports, Sisson said schools’ athletic conduct contracts are a great incentive to keep young adults away from vape and other drugs.

Sisson, talking about awareness campaigns against vaping, referenced a public service announcement Westport Central School students released in March that featured a real-life scenario where a student athlete, instead of excelling on the basketball court, was sitting in detention because he vaped.

The video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qd06iXGPSFY.

GENERATING AWARENESS

As vaping evolves, athletic directors and other school officials want to turn down an upward trend.

Communication among coaches, parents and student-athletes has been stressed and encouraged to deter vaping.

“At Saranac, and I know other schools in the area are doing the same thing, we have to establish that vaping is not OK,” Denis said.

“Before each sports season, we address this issue with all our coaches and provide them with some information on warning signs and what to look for. What we communicate with our coaches is something we also communicate with student-athletes’ parents.

“If we don’t get ahead of this problem now, generate awareness and get students help if they need it, we are going to have much bigger problems very soon.”

Email Joey LaFranca:

jlafranca@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @JoeyLaFranca

Sports Writer

Sports writer at the Press-Republican. SUNY Plattsburgh '17.

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