LEXINGTON, Ky. - The postgame handshake - and the sportsmanship it is supposed to represent - are alive in Kentucky after all.
Reports that the handshake had been banned by the commissioner of Kentucky high school sports were greatly exaggerated, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said in a statement Wednesday.
That's good, because players, coaches and fans reacted as if they had canceled the Kentucky Derby - or worse, the state high school basketball tournament.
"It's kind of a respect thing," Rachel Montgomery, a Williamstown girls basketball player, said of the handshake.
"I don't think we're doing our kids a justice by not allowing them to shake hands," said Trent Steiner, Simon Kenton boys basketball coach.
"I think it's good that we're allowed now,” Montgomery said, “but I think it's silly how it came up in the first place.”
It was even a hot topic on ESPN's SportsCenter Wednesday morning.
“I would hope this (ban) would not be put in place,” said SportsCenter commentator Herm Edwards, a former NFL coach and player. “I think young people need to understand the importance of sportsmanship. Our country was built on that as far as athletics.”
Tackett said the statement he issued Tuesday only directed schools to supervise postgame handshakes to stop a rash of fights.
Tackett said his directive was misreported in some media outlets and on social media, but he conceded that his original statement was “at best poorly worded and at worst … incomplete” and he apologized to schools for its “hasty” release.
Read Tackett's Tuesday directive at http://khsaa.org/10082013-commissioners-directive-on-postgame-activity/
Read Tackett's Wednesday statement at http://khsaa.org/100913-commissioner-issues-clarification-about-postgame-activity/
Several hours after the original statement was posted on the KHSAA website, Tackett added his own personal comments, including this:
"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.”
Tackett said he felt the need to intercede after more than two dozen confrontations during postgame handshakes in the past three years.
"In our state alone, incidents in soccer, football and volleyball have occurred this fall," Tackett said.
From now on, schools that don't prevent "unsporting acts" after games will be penalized, and participating players, coaches and schools may be subject to additional penalties, Tackett said.
And he made it clear that school officials - not referees and umpires - are responsible for maintaining order after games.
He ordered game officials to leave immediately after play ends or risk being penalized.
"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," Tackett wrote.
Other states have made similar rules because of postgame incidents, according to Bob Gardener, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
"The idea is that you simply end the game and get off the field," Gardener told Kentucky.com.
Sportsmanship has declined across the country, Gardener said.
"We have seen that erosion occur at almost every level. Almost every state association can point to an incident like this," he said. "If that's what they feel is in the best interest, then the loss of that opportunity is something you have to live with."
But SportsCenter's Edwards said the lesson from a postgame handshake is too important to give up.
“You always learn to have good sportsmanship, whether it’s in football or life. When things don’t go your way, what do you do? You fight? No," Edwards said. "And I think the discipline of any team is really put on the head coach. You can discipline young people. People want discipline. You can’t all of a sudden say because we’re in a contest, a physical contest, that we can’t shake hands.
"Why should we not allow it because a couple of students or a couple of athletes get into a fight?
"Stop it. Put them on the bench. Don’t allow them to play. That straightens all that up,” Edwards said.
Tackett said he doesn't think the KHSAA will ever ban postgame handshakes.
“There has never been a ban or prohibition on postgame handshakes or other types of good sporting behavior by the KHSAA, its Commissioner or its Board of Control. Nor has such a ban been proposed," Tackett wrote. "There is no ban or prohibition on such activity today or contemplated for the future.”
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