COLUMN: Hearts should enforce true sportsmanship, not KHSAA

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By John Herndon

By now, you have had the time to a) seethe, b) show righteous indignation, c) wonder what the world is coming to, or d) laugh at the headlines emerging from the news regarding the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and handshakes.


Or your reaction could have been like one of my old college professors who loved to give multiple choice questions in an any, all, or none format.

Ever since last Tuesday afternoon, when the KHSAA issued a press release regarding post-game handshake lines, those simple little post-game gatherings have been a hot topic of discussion.

In case you missed it – and if you did, welcome back from your trip to outer space – the state's governing body for high school sports published a directive that said, "It is hereby directed that teams and individuals do not participate in organized post-game handshake lines/ceremonies” beyond those required by certain sports, such as wrestling.

I had just loaded my camera in my car after covering the boys' state golf tournament at Bowling Green Country Club when I first saw the news. Before I got back to I-65, my Twitter account was sending my phone into convulsions.

By the time I got home, the KHSAA had already issued a clarification.

Prior to leaving the golf course, I read the release, re-read it and went on my merry way. I thought it was kind of odd, but did not think an outright ban on post-game handshakes, as some were – and still are – reporting, was the intent of the directive. I took it to mean that schools were to supervise the post-game handshake lines that have become a tradition in most sports and if the lines could not be adequately overseen, then it was best not to do them.

Maybe that was because I have known KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett for many years and know what he desires in high school sports. While I don't always agree with Tackett, I firmly believe his desire is to do what is best for kids. He has promoted sportsmanship so much that I could not imagine any circumstance where he would go any other route.

But, there is no question the wording of the original release could lend itself to misinterpretation.

Here are some thoughts from someone who has been around high school sports, a lot of high school sports, since 1985.

First, the KHSAA did not ban post-game handshakes. I would be surprised if they ever do.

In reality, what the KHSAA intended is a good idea. Unfortunately, many people did not read past some sensational headlines and the political grandstanding of some of Frankfort's finest and missed that point.

Last Wednesday, Tackett issued a lengthy clarification of the directive. One portion reads, “The intent and spirit of the directive/prescription/recommendation was two-fold and remains in place today. First, if schools desire to perform postgame rituals such as handshake lines, etc., they must be able to monitor the activity closely. If they do not have adequate personnel to properly monitor, then they shouldn’t allow the activity. The fact is that over the last several years, we have had more than two dozen situations occur where incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct have occurred during these postgame activities. … If these postgame ceremonies are going to continue, then the schools must be able to monitor what is going on, as they will be held accountable for student and coach conduct going forward.

“Secondly, there is a misconception in some circles that the officials are somehow responsible for monitoring what happens postgame. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Basically, it is saying officials need to get off the field, which has always been the case, and schools are to be sure to monitor what happens after the games.

It seems impossible to think something bad would happen in a moment of “sportsmanship,” but it occasionally does. The KHSAA said this school year alone has had incidents in football, soccer and, believe it or not, volleyball.

In my 28 years of writing, I can't say I have ever seen a brawl break out in the handshake lines, but have seen a handful of incidents as the result of hard feelings arise in at least three sports. They are rare, but do happen.

I must interject, however, that I have seen far more problems from fans and/or parents during games than from kids or coaches after them. And, to its credit, Anderson County High School polices games and events better than most schools.

From this corner, there are mixed feelings about the post-game handshake line. On one hand, I love the visible display of sportsmanship. On the other, I have observed so many half-hearted hand pats and mumbled “good games” that I have wondered for some time if it really serves the intended purpose.

On one hand, I really like the traditions or rules of some sports – tennis and wrestling come to mind – of immediately shaking hands after a competition. In wrestling, unsportsmanlike behavior following a bout can cost a team points. It happened to Anderson County several years ago at the regional tournament. On the other, I believe true sportsmanship must come from the heart, not the rule book.

Most of all, I wonder why it has come to this? Has our society become so uncivil that we can't simply enjoy a game? Have we made the games so important that we forget they really are games?

If we really are going to make things better, our look should not be toward the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

Instead, change must come from deep within our own hearts.


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