It’s a time-honored tradition in sports — players lining up for postgame handshakes, winners and losers moving by one another in lines, often echoing the same words: “Good game. Good game. Good game.”But a directive issued Tuesday by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association threatens that tradition among schools in the commonwealth.
Citing more than two dozen incidents during the past three years in which fights and physical conflicts have occurred after games in Kentucky, the KHSAA issued a directive, but not a requirement, for sports it sanctions, which include baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling.
It prescribes “that teams and individuals do not participate in organized postgame handshake lines/ceremonies beyond that interaction that is required ... (i.e. the awarding of a bout winner in wrestling) and the individual unorchestrated actions by individual competitors.”
If schools choose to ignore the directive, it is the responsibility of school athletic directors, their assistants and school administrators to supervise the activity and report any incidents to the KHSAA. If postgame fights or conflicts occur, the KHSAA will fine the school’s athletic program and additional penalties may occur.
Jerry Wyman, director of athletics for Jefferson County Public Schools, said athletic directors will meet Thursday to discuss a policy for area schools.
KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said he doesn’t want to see the tradition of postgame handshakes come to an end but merely be monitored by the schools.
“We need them controlled,” Tackett said. “If you can’t control them, don’t do them.”
The news Tuesday left coaches and administrators looking for guidance. The National Federation of State High School Associations, which sets rules for high school sports across the nation, has an article on its website praising the postgame handshake as a means of reinforcing sportsmanship.
“School officials and coaches must never forget that youth sports should be as much about teaching sportsmanship as teaching athletic skills,” wrote Florida high school softball coach Sondra Ahlers in the article.
But one area AD said the penalties make him leery.
“I don’t know what you can do,” said St. Xavier athletic director Alan Donhoff, who nonetheless argues that the postgame handshake is a valuable teaching moment for young athletes.
“We begin our games with a sportsmanship statement from the National Federation, and then we’re going to end them with no handshake? To me, as an athletic director and a supporter of high school athletics, I’m having a really hard time with that,” he said.
Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox said that state doesn’t have a specific policy in place to police handshakes.
“We expect all student-athletes and coaches to conduct themselves in an exemplary manner during and after interscholastic contests and we have rules in place that speak to conduct, character and discipline in the IHSAA By-Laws,” Cox said.
Trinity football coach Bob Beatty said he wasn’t paying too much attention to the Kentucky directive.
“It’s not a rule; it’s a directive,” he said. “Therefore it’s up to our administration to decide. If they tell me to shake hands, I will. If they tell me not to, I won’t.”
The directive also mandates that game officials — including referees and umpires — leave the playing field immediately at the conclusion of a contest. Officials participating in postgame activities will be penalized.
Donnie Hudson, assigning secretary for football officials in the Louisville metro area, said officials always have been advised to leave as soon as possible.
Tackett did not name specific schools but said incidents this year have included punches being thrown during a postgame volleyball handshake, soccer players tripping one another in a handshake line and football players throwing helmets.
Monitoring that kind of activity is “not the referees’ job,” Tackett said. “If (school administrators) aren’t monitoring it … they’re going to be held accountable.”
The maximum fine would be $1,000, he said.
Male athletic director John Kelsey said he hopes there’s a compromise available to meet the directive and keep the handshake.
“People are going to think we’re being bad sports if we don’t shake hands,” Kelsey said. “Hopefully we can come up with something.”
Collins principal John Leeper said, “I would be surprised if the coaches don’t agree to shake hands anyway.”
Jason Frakes writes for the Courier-Journal, a Gannett property.