Handshakes after high school games banned in Kentucky

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(KTVI)-- A move by the governing body for high school sports in Kentucky is generating nationwide head-scratching, and Missouri and Illinois residents are no exception.  At issue, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s criticism of the postgame handshake.

Earlier this week the association issued a statement apparently banning the practice of shaking hands after a game, citing dozens of fights that have taken place over the last three years.  After an uproar, the group issued a “clarification,” saying that schools could decide what to do, but officials should not take part.

“I was a little bit surprised,” Kirkwood High School Athletic Director Corey Nesslage said Wednesday about the move.  “I feel like at the interscholastic level, I feel like that’s an important learning piece when you get done competing to walk across the field or the court or the pool, to shake hands and tell an opponent, “good game.””

His opinion echoed the sentiments of everyone Fox 2 spoke to about the issue.

The Illinois High School Association issued a statement on the subject, saying , “The handshake is a valuable tradition that helps provide perspective to participants that the value of participation is more important than the outcome of the event.”

Jason West, from the Missouri State High School Activities Association said by phone that he believes the handshake does more to curtail problems than create them.

Carol Wilk, whose daughter is an athlete, believes the move is an attack on sportsmanship.

“I think it’s a little weird not to be able to shake a hand after a good game, to congratulate the other team.  It seems a little silly to me,” she said.

This is the “clarification” of the original Kentucky statement that was universally interpreted as a ban on post game handshakes.  It comes from Fox affiliate WDRB in Louisivlle:

For those that may choose to read only the first few lines, it is worth reiteration. THERE IS NO BAN OR PROHIBITION ON POSTGAME HANDSHAKES. Has not been considered, contemplated or reviewed as an option.

Several sports have “traditions” regarding postgame handshakes, etc. by team members (both en masse and as individuals), but none of them have such action dictated by playing rules. While it is an obvious sign of sportsmanship and civility, many incidents have occurred both in Kentucky (more than two dozen in the last three years in Kentucky alone) and throughout the country, where fights and physical conflicts have broken out during these postgame handshakes. And this is not restricted to specific sports. In our state alone, incidents in soccer, football and volleyball have occurred this fall.

Unfortunately, the adrenaline and effort required to participate in the sport sometimes seems to deplete the supply of judgement available to participants. And this can be particularly problematic when there is a lack of an appropriate level of adult supervision, or counterproductive actions by the adults involved with the team. After consultation with the Board of Control at its last meeting, the Commissioner is issuing the following directives to officials and recommendations to the schools and officials regarding post game in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling:

  • Following the contests, officials are to quickly and efficiently leave the playing facility following all rules mandated duties and ensure that the rules book mandated jurisdiction ends promptly. There is no need for officials to secure the game balls, shake hands with the coaches or players, or stick around the playing area for any other reason.
  • Officials have no role in what goes on in postgame, including handshakes, etc. after jurisdiction has ended. Officials also have NO role in administering this policy. Officials choosing to involve themselves in postgame activities will be penalized appropriately;
  • Game management and the administration of the participating team(s) are solely responsible for what happens after the contest is concluded.
  • Certain interaction is required by the NFHS playing rules (i.e. the awarding of a bout winner in wrestling). Other postgame rituals such as handshakes, etc. must be closely monitored by school officials and are not a part of the game regulated by game officials.  However, any unsportsmanlike conduct occurring during this time will subject the coach/player to penalties and discipline; and
  • The coaches and administration of the teams are always responsible for the individual conduct of the members of the team following the contest and shall be held accountable for such.

Henceforth, any incidents by an individual squad member (including coaches) or group of squad members that results in unsporting acts immediately following the contest will result in a penalty against the member school athletic program, and additional penalties against the individuals or schools as deemed appropriate following investigation.

It is disappointing that this action has become necessary, but enough incidents have occurred both in our state and in others, that the necessity has arrived.

DIRECT COMMENTS FROM THE COMMISSIONER (4pm Oct 8):

“It is regrettable that a few key individuals apparently have chosen to read small participles of the note above, versus the entirety of the directive and reminder, so I feel the necessity to add specific comments. And admittedly, two totally related paragraphs were not immediately adjacent and that may have caused some people to stop reading at one point, and then not follow through with the rest of the post.

Nothing about this situation is etched in stone as far as post game procedures. As the document states, the schools continue to have the option to have postgame handshakes as always, provided they are properly supervised. That was the first part of two main intentions. The first, was to reinforce the requirement for supervision. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, all involved in contests seem to be more aggressive immediately after the contests are concluded and winning with honor and dignity (and losing the same way) doesn’t seem to be being instilled across the board. Sometimes, these attitudes and lack of supervision have resulted in fights/altercations/incidents during postgame periods. In Kentucky alone, this has happened more than two dozen times in the last three years. So the directive to the member schools is simple. Don’t do it, UNLESS you can properly supervise it. And if you don’t supervise it (or if you do and problems occur) then you will be held accountable. 

Secondly, and just as critical, don’t expect the officials to police this time period. That has NEVER been the officials’ job at the high school level, and shouldn’t be now. 

It’s really that simple. Sportsmanship and civility remain hallmark values. It is my hope that all schools can provide the proper supervision and accountability to continue these types of activities. But if they can’t, then stop doing them.”