All the Rage

A year after Taylor Hootonís suicide, Plano West Senior High is still in denial about steroid abuse

Emily continues, "I just don't understand...how all these kids are saying, 'Look. We're around it. We know it's a problem. We're friends with these people. We go to school with them. You don't know.' And then they're just not even acknowledging it. They're totally dismissing it. They don't want to have anything to do with it at all."

The Dallas Observertried repeatedly to interview Plano West athletics director and head football coach Mike Hughes, baseball coach Kendall Clark, principal Phil Saviano and Superintendent Otto. None of them responded to phone calls, e-mails or a written request for an interview.

But what can be done? Testing is said to be too expensive for high schools; it costs as much as $125 per student, and to be effective, a school needs to test two or three times a year. Professional athletes certainly aren't setting any sort of example.

Taylor Hooton's older brother, Donald, knew Taylor was on steroids. When his parents commented on how big 17-year-old Taylor was getting, Donald told them the truth. Here, he sits in Taylor's empty room.
Mark Graham
Taylor Hooton's older brother, Donald, knew Taylor was on steroids. When his parents commented on how big 17-year-old Taylor was getting, Donald told them the truth. Here, he sits in Taylor's empty room.
Dr. Babette Farkas treated Taylor for depression. After Taylor's death, the psychiatrist fielded calls from current and former steroid users who live all over the affluent northern suburbs.
Mark Graham
Dr. Babette Farkas treated Taylor for depression. After Taylor's death, the psychiatrist fielded calls from current and former steroid users who live all over the affluent northern suburbs.

Don Hooton says perhaps the best way to reverse the trend of steroid use at Plano West and across the nation's high schools is to talk about it. Talk about the drug's availability. Talk about its effects. Talk about why kids are doing it anyway. Even talk about Taylor, again and again, if that's what it takes.

I'm thinking about taking steroids," Taylor Hooton said. It was November 2002, and he and Billy Ajello were sitting in the back of chemistry class at Plano West.

Billy looked over to see if Taylor was serious. He was.

"What? Why?" Billy said. "Why would you want to do that?"

Taylor could tell Billy wasn't pleased, so he backed off. "I don't know," he said.

But he did know.

Taylor and Emily Parker--a cute girl, all high cheekbones and kind smiles--started dating in the summer of 2002 and quickly became each other's confidant. He told her things he told no one else. Taylor, she says, was always concerned about his looks. He'd spend hours on his hair, gelling it, fussing it, spiking it, highlighting it. When he went out, he had to be well-dressed. And one time, his friends caught him using concealer to cover his zits.

His body was his biggest disappointment. At 6-foot-2, he was taller than everyone in his family--no one else topped 6 feet--but he didn't have the stockier build of his father or the flat-out muscular physique of his brother. Taylor was skinny. Or perhaps the better word is lithe, because he did look athletic. And athleticism ran in the family. Donald pitched at Louisiana-Lafayette and the University of Texas at Arlington. In 1972, Burt Hooton, Taylor's cousin, threw a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs.

From the start, Emily says, "The steroids were an issue...He was thinking how to get the money. It was for sure that he wanted to get on them."

He never worried about the consequences. And because of the lack of secrecy among West's student body, Taylor knew scores of people on steroids. They never showed any side effects. They just got bigger.

"At Plano West, before the death happened, I remember it was almost like people looked up to you for using steroids," says Emily, who was a year younger than Taylor. "It was cool. It wasn't something you were ashamed of or kept to yourself or were secret about. It was what people wanted to do...They were almost a way of life. I was used to hearing about so many guys who did it."

When Taylor told her he wanted to use, she says, "It didn't even faze me."

In November 2002, a West baseball coach--the Hootons don't know who--told Taylor he needed to get bigger if he wanted to pitch varsity that summer. That was all the push he needed to buy steroids, though Emily maintains Taylor got on them "for his looks," because at Plano West, you drive the right car, wear the right clothes and have the right build. Or you don't fit in. "And every guy was big," Emily says.

Somehow, Taylor knew his mother's ATM code. In February, he took $400 out of her savings account. One day, he and Emily were in his pickup, and he stopped by a local YMCA. In the parking lot was a guy--white, 6-foot-4 with a pretty good build--holding a paper sack. Emily didn't know him, but Taylor said he was the older brother of a friend.

"Just wait here," Taylor told her.

Taylor walked up, gave the guy some bills and walked away with the sack. "It was in broad daylight," Emily says.

In March, Taylor took another $400 out of his mother's account. One day, Taylor and Emily stopped at a 24 Hour Fitness. The same guy was in the parking lot. The deal went down the same way. Only this time, back in the truck, Taylor showed her the vials and pills in the sack. It wasn't something she wanted to see again.

Perhaps a week later, in late March, Billy Ajello was at the Y getting in a workout. Taylor was there, too. Since that day in chemistry, Taylor hadn't mentioned steroids to Billy. But Billy knew. Here was Taylor, with an 85-pound dumbbell behind his head, doing tricep extensions. Ten, 12 reps. Two or three sets. Not even tired. And yet, six weeks earlier, Taylor had struggled with the 60-pound dumbbell.

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