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Shake it off

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By Brandon Mattingly

A lot of people have been up in arms over the last week after the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) issued a directive on postgame handshakes.

Columnists throughout Kentucky and even sports writers across the nation and ESPN have gotten in on the conversation.

For the most part, the sentiment has been harsh against the KHSAA, criticizing them for taking away the most traditional sign of sportsmanship in amateur athletics.

From our very first youth league through every high school sport and most at the college level, lining up to shake hands and tell the opponent “good game” win or lose has been a time-honored tradition. People have been upset about potentially losing that fixture of youth sporting events, and it’s easy to see why.

Some of the outrage, however, has been unwarranted. In fact, a lot of it has.

Criticism reached the point that within two days of issuing the directive, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett felt the need to clarify his comments not once, but twice. His quote, noted by the Kentucky Herald-Leader last Wednesday, best clears up the confusion.

“In an effort to create a different category, not a rule, not a policy, but more than a recommendation or suggestion, we chose to use the word directive, which has many meanings,” Tackett said.

The key there is that this is not a rule change. Schools are free to continue conducting postgame handshakes as they please. They just have to know that the KHSAA is standing behind them saying, “I don’t think this is a good idea,” and waiting for the opportunity to say, “I told you so.”

Only, “I told you so,” is going to come in the form of fines and penalties to any school involved in unsportsmanlike conduct while conduct postgame handshakes.

That’s what brought about this directive in the first place, the more than two dozen altercations that have been reported to the KHSAA in the last three years.

Schools are going to be held accountable for their behavior after games, and I’m willing to bet many of those two dozen altercations are repeat offenders, so maybe a little accountability won’t be the worst thing ever.

The important thing is that schools have the freedom to conduct altercation-free handshakes without penalty, because this is obviously something that doesn’t need to be taken away from the masses because of the actions of very few.

There are those games—and we’ve all seen them—where young tempers flare and what was supposed to be a friendly rivalry takes a turn for the worst. Sometimes you know it’s just better to get two groups away from each other than to follow through with a trivial sign of sportsmanship, but those nights are few and far between.

The vast majority of Kentucky sporting events go without incident, and that will continue on into the future, because I suspect many schools will choose to continue with the tradition they’ve upheld for decades.

Just as there was no rule deeming postgame handshakes must be conducted, there’s no rule now telling teams they can’t do it, nor should there be.

The KHSAA is right to ask coaches to monitor postgame handshakes and for players and coaches to be accountable for their actions. Where they were wrong, however, was ever thinking schools would be willing to part with the most common sign of sportsmanship there is.