I was asked a couple of times last week what I thought of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s directive advising schools not to hold organized handshake lines following games.
The reason is more than two dozen fights in the past three years have broken out immediately following games played north of the state border.
I agree that two dozen is two dozen too many. On the other hand, out of the thousands of contests in various sports that have been held, that’s barely a drop in the bucket and not a reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, and I’m assuming the other 49 or so statewide prep sports governing bodies across the country, has always stressed sportsmanship for its schools and athletes. The postgame handshake is the most visible example of that.
After news of the directive received its deserved criticism on social media, the KHSAA changed the wording to where schools have the option to continue the handshakes as long as they are properly supervised. If an incident occurs, the school[s] would be held accountable.
Huh? I thought the handshakes were already supervised and schools held responsible – at least in the Volunteer State.
The TSSAA publishes a quarterly magazine [now online only] which is distributed to member schools and statewide media. One of its regular features is a section which reports disciplinary measures against schools, coaches and athletes. Many of those deal with incidents during games.
Did the Bluegrass State not regulate postgame handshakes before?
In nearly 30 years of covering high school sports, I can recall only one end-of-game incident I’ve witnessed – a Lebanon football playoff game at Rhea County a quarter of a century ago ended in a brawl. In more recent times, I remember a couple of instances where the coaches raised their voices to each other more than I do problems involving players.
Most of the time when a game is getting chippy near the end, coaches tell their players to put their helmets on, show some class and shake hands.
But just when I thought Kentucky had gone off its rocker, two football games involving Wilson County teams ended with incidents which must have made the KHSAA officials say, “I told you so”.
One was at Watertown where the final high school game at Robinson Stadium ended with an altercation resulting in a player ejection. Meanwhile at Portland, a Lebanon player and a PHS player were ejected for fighting and the teams were taken off the field immediately after the game. In both instances, the teams did not shake hands.
At Watertown, and I’m sure at Portland, proper protocol was followed. When the mercury of emotions overflow the thermometer, shaking hands is not the prudent thing to do.
But two instances out of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, is no reason to discard one of the traditions of sports.
If NFL players can beat and bang and generally knock the [insert your noun here] out of each other for three hours, then hug and shake hands with their combatant immediately following the game, then high schoolers need to learn to do so as well.
After all, aren’t sportsmanship and dealing with emotions and defeat, which includes congratulating your opponent even if you don’t feel like doing so, among the main lessons high school sports are supposed to teach us?