Stop the Madness! Kentucky High Schools Moves to ‘Supervise’ Postgame Handshakes

Postgame handshake

Just do it

My kindergartener doesn’t get much that’s going on around her during her soccer games. She’s more interested in looking for Tinkerbell-shaped clouds or suspiciously monitoring her toddler sister on the sidelines to make sure she only takes her fair share of the snacks. In a game a few weeks ago, she almost scored  — against her own team — and didn’t even notice. She was too busy hunting in the grass immediately after for the rainbow sticker that fell off her jersey.

What she does get, however, is that when the game is over, she needs to line up and give high-fives to the opposing team. She may or may not be a good athlete, but she’s definitely a good sport.

Clearly there are parents (and kids) with a more competitive streak than me and my daughter, but even those parents are likely perplexed at why high schools in Kentucky are considering doing away with postgame handshakes. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association issued a directive on Oct. 8th that suggested postgame handshakes are not a necessary part of sports. Julian Tackett, the KHSAA commissioner, isn’t banning the goodwill gesture, but he seems to be strenuously opposed to them.

The directive cites “many incidents” that have occurred nationwide “where fights and physical conflicts have broken out during these postgame handshakes.” As a result, “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.”

“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.”

The full directive can be found here, but it basically sounds like a big ol’ legal preamble to preventing a lawsuit should a bar fight break out on a volleyball court or wrestling mat.

The directive is receiving lots of bad press — and lots of incorrect press, with many headlines erroneously stating there’s a movement underway to ban postgame handshakes outright — for which Tackett is defending himself vigorously, and a bit nastily, on Twitter. What’s getting lost in the shuffle seems to be the point that perhaps some kids have a hard time separating the battle from the fact that it is, indeed, just a game. With high school sports now being televised on ESPN, can you really blame some kids for taking this stuff so seriously when there’s often so much at stake?

Either way, it’s hard not to laugh at something that comes across as so politically and legally correct when you’re talking about a bunch of kids fighting hard to win a game that they take very seriously and then expecting them to lose the attitude when the final whistle blows. Instead of pointing blame at the handshakes, why not delay them for a few minutes after the game to give the adult coaches a few minutes to talk to their teams and discuss the good things that came out of the result — win or lose.

It would seem that the directive might have been better received and  more productive had it come from a place where it was trying to ensure adequate adult supervision at high school sporting events so that handshakes are not followed up with punches. Lessons in civility might go a lot further than forced incivility.

Just ask my kindergartner, who monitors her little sister’s snack intake instead of prohibiting her from eating outright. Even she knows the message needs an effective messenger in order to be received.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

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