TH Foundation~ PLANO, Tex., Nov. 25, 2011 After recording one save last season, Taylor Hooton expected to join the starting rotation next spring for the baseball team at Plano West Senior High School.
“You could count on the kid to throw strikes,” said Billy Ajello, Taylor’s best friend and a catcher at Plano West, which is located amid the affluent sprawl north of Dallas.
By all accounts, Taylor was popular and ebullient. He was a cousin of Burt Hooton, the former major league pitcher, and his brother pitched in college. Next spring, he would make his own mark during his senior season. But on July 15, a month past his 17th birthday, Taylor Hooton killed himself. The authorities ruled the death a suicide by hanging.
His parents and a doctor familiar with the case said they believe that Taylor’s death was related to depression that he felt upon discontinuing the use of anabolic steroids. The sense of euphoria and aggression that accompany the use of steroids can be replaced by lethargy, loss of confidence, melancholy and hopelessness when a person stops using performance-enhancing drugs, doctors said.
“It’s a pretty strong case that he was withdrawing from steroids and his suicide was directly related to that,” said Dr. Larry W. Gibbons, president and medical director of the Cooper Aerobics Center, a leading preventive medicine clinic in Dallas. “This is a kid who was well liked, had a lot good friends, no serious emotional problems. He had a bright future.”
Taylor Hooton’s example is extreme, but the use of steroids by athletes and nonathletes in high school is considered even more troubling than the use of them by elite athletes who are involved in widely publicized scandals in sports like football, baseball and track and field, a number of doctors said.
While there are relatively few professional athletes, some doctors estimate that 500,000 to one million high school students, or more, use steroids. Adolescents are also more susceptible to some physiological dangers, including premature cessation of bone growth, which can limit a person’s height, doctors said.
By nature, teenagers are risk takers, and they are less likely to understand the health risks or to be concerned with potential side effects like infertility, atrophied testicles, high blood pressure, liver damage and prostate cancer, some of which may not appear for 20 or 30 years, doctors said.
“I’m worried about kids,” said Dr. Donald A. Malone, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic, who wrote a 1995 study indicating an association between depression and steroid use. “Elite athletes know the side effects, and they can afford to pay for the real stuff. Kids don’t have the knowledge, and they’re buying it from some clown selling it at school. Who knows what they’re getting?”
High school students take muscle-building steroids to enhance athletic performance, improve self-confidence and become more attractive to the opposite sex, athletes and doctors say. Young athletes say they are influenced by their professional role models who use illicit substances. Parents are often clueless about signs of steroid use and some parents even encourage it in a misguided attempt to promote their children’s careers, doctors said, while many coaches are also uninformed or seem to turn a blind eye.
Four percent of high school seniors said in 2002 that had used steroids, according to a survey by the University of Michigan. Other surveys indicate that 3 percent to 11 percent of high school students said they had used steroids. A survey by the National Collegiate Athletic Association indicated that nearly half of college athletes who admitted using steroids had begun in high school. As many as 3 percent of eighth graders said they had used steroids, according to the Michigan survey.
“While we focus on the elite athletes that are headline grabbers, the underbelly of all this is a much more serious problem,” Dr. Gary I. Wadler, a professor of medicine at New York University, said.
Parents and students are rarely willing to speak about steroid use in high school. But Don Hooton, Taylor’s father, and Ajello, Taylor’s close friend, have begun holding seminars and granting interviews, believing that parents, administrators and coaches need to become better educated and need to confront the issue more forcefully, so that another tragedy may be prevented.
“Don’t tell me it’s not a problem,” Don Hooton, a director of worldwide marketing for Hewlett-Packard, said. “My kid just died.”
Those who knew Taylor Hooton described him as a young man who smiled often, was popular with girls and had many friends from different backgrounds. “He was very popular,” Blake Boydston, the baseball coach at Plano West, said. “He always came to the field in good spirits. When he spoke, it was, `Thank you; no, sir; yes, sir.’ ”
Ajello said that Taylor was also a teenager who colored his hair and looked twice when he passed a mirror. During a chemistry class in the fall of 2002, Taylor mentioned that he might begin using steroids, Ajello said. When Ajello asked why, he said Taylor replied: “I’m not doing it for baseball. I’m doing it for myself.”
After Taylor’s death, his parents said they had learned from his psychiatrist that he had low self-esteem, and that to feel as if he measured up, he had to make himself bigger, drive a big pickup truck. A junior varsity coach had also suggested to Taylor that he get bigger, Don Hooton said.
Late last winter and into the spring, Don and Gwen Hooton, who is an elementary school teacher, began to notice changes in Taylor’s physique and behavior. Taylor, who was 6 feet 1 1/2 inches, grew to 205 pounds from about 175 pounds. Initially, his parents did not suspect steroid use. Don Hooton said he felt proud that his son seemed to be working hard in the weight room.
“There is a checklist of symptoms, and he was showing almost all of them,” Don Hooton said. “We didn’t know any better. We should have.”
Taylor began to develop acne on his back and to exhibit signs of aggressiveness and irritability that are often associated with steroid use, his parents said. He flew into rages, then became tearfully apologetic. He took several hundred dollars from his parents’ bank account without permission. He would pound the floor with his fists in anger. Once, he punched a wall and injured a knuckle on his pitching hand.